Wyden Agenda: When it comes to his second full term as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has laid out a somewhat modest agenda.
The Oregon Democrat reportedly planned some of his committee objectives for 2023 in light of a Republican takeover of the House, even though that outcome had not been determined at the time he talked with reporters.
He pledged to keep pushing for improvements in mental health care accessibility, health care cost containment, and updated support and retraining programs for employees whose jobs are threatened by globalization.
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Mental Health and Worker Assistance Are on Wyden Agenda
Wyden, 73, was reelected to a fifth full term in the Senate on November 8. He will now be the third most senior Democrat in the Senate, behind only California’s Dianne Feinstein and Washington’s Patty Murray. The 91-year-old Feinstein will be on the ballot in 2024, while the newly-elected Murray is starting her sixth term.
Wyden made his remarks during a conference call from Washington, D.C., where Congress is now holding a post-election session with Democratic majorities in both chambers. When the 118th Congress convenes on January 3rd, Republicans will have a razor-thin majority over Democrats, but Democrats will maintain control of the Senate.
He underlined his work with Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, the committee’s senior Republican, in developing some mental-health provisions that went into federal gun legislation (S. 2938) signed by Biden on June 25. Shootings on May 14 in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 Blacks were killed at a grocery, and May 24 in Robb Elementary School, Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two adults were killed, pushed Congress to take action.
With regard to the overarching aims that Wyden outlined, he added, “This is going to be a question of whether Republicans will collaborate so we can have bipartisan support.” “We’ve established that we’re both open to working across the aisle,” I said of him.
Emphasis on mental health
Wyden has been critical of some insurance firms for dodging a 2008 federal requirement for parity of mental health and physical health benefits.
To better safeguard persons in need of mental health care, Senators Tina Smith and Ron Wyden of Minnesota have proposed legislation to tighten down on “ghost networks” that falsely list health care providers.
“Too frequently, Americans who need affordable mental health care encounter a dead end when they try to find a provider that’s covered by their insurance,” Wyden added in a follow-up statement. “Ghost networks have rendered nearly useless the lists of mental health practitioners in insurance company directories.
If insurance companies refuse to put in the effort to maintain accurate provider directories, as the law requires, they will face significant penalties.
Medicaid is a federal-state program that provides health insurance to low-income people, and Wyden wants to expand on the funding it provided for mental health care during the coronavirus outbreak. (About a third of Oregonians are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, totaling 1.4 million people.)
The $425 million gift from Steve and Connie Ballmer that allowed the University of Oregon to purchase the former Concordia University campus in Portland is an example of the type of public-private cooperation he wants to encourage. In 2023, the doors will open at the Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health.
“It’s a game-changer for mental health,” he proclaimed.
— Bob Joondeph (@Bobdeph) November 21, 2022
Wyden is also advocating for an extension of the insulin price cap. This summer, Congress passed a law capping the cost for Medicare recipients at $35 per month, but not for everyone else, as Wyden had hoped.
Wyden has stated his intention to update the federal government’s aid provisions under the Trade Expansion Act, which was originally enacted in 1962 and has been updated numerous times since then to better serve employees who have been negatively impacted by trade.
For example, “with an economy evolving as rapidly as ours, people need programs that allow them to move swiftly in areas where they can train for high-wage, high-skill employment,” he said. “Today, it’s simply not possible to receive that sort of information in a lot of places of our country.”
In 2021, Oregon’s $29.6 billion in exports and $22.7 billion in imports placed it 18th and 26th, respectively, among the states.
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The state of Oregon has had a 49% gain in exports since Kate Brown took office as governor in February 2015, making it the sixth fastest-growing export market in the US during that time. Only six states had an export increase in 2019 and 2020 despite the pandemic, and Oregon was one of them. Exports are important to Oregon’s economy because they sustain the jobs of nearly 6,000 businesses and 83,000 people.
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