March 5, 2018 Newsletter

The 2018 General Assembly session is entering its final week! The last week of the session will be a busy one, there are hundreds of bills still waiting to be acted on by both the House and Senate, and we still have a lot of work to do on the budget. This week I want to give you an update on the budget and tell you about some of the important bills that are already headed to the Governor’s desk for him to sign.

This week the House and Senate both announced members who will serve as “budget conferees.” The six members from the House and the seven members from Senate will work together to reach a consensus on a final budget that can pass both the House and Senate. The biggest difference between the two budget proposals is that the House’s version includes a way to provide healthcare with conservative reforms to low-income Virginians while the Senate version does not.

           

Last week, I shared with you why I voted against the House budget proposal. I still stand behind that decision because the House budget includes a plan to expand Medicaid, albeit with some conservative reform elements. I respect my colleagues who are supporting this plan, there are good conservatives on both sides of this plan, but I respectfully disagree with this approach.

 

I am against the plan because our current Medicaid system still needs reform, because it is hard to trust the Federal Government when they promise “free” federal money, and because of the significant deficits facing other states.

 

While I applaud the work of our Appropriations Committee on areas such as teacher pay raises and prudent investments in the reserve fund, I cannot support the proposal to expand Medicaid.

 

The House of Delegates earlier this year passed a bill that will end the practice of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) requiring pharmacists to charge higher copays than the cash price of the prescription drug. That piece of legislation has now passed the Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

 

If you aren’t familiar with this issue, a recent news investigation exposed customers being forced to pay copays that exceeded the cash price of the drug. The investigation found PBM’s are requiring pharmacists to sign “gag clauses,” which prevent the pharmacists from informing customers that the cash price for the drug may be cheaper than the insurance copay. The investigation found one instance where a customer was charged $50 for their copay when the cash price of the drug was just over $11.

 

I am proud to support this piece of legislation, which will save you money on medical prescriptions that are vital to your health. The practice of overcharging patients is disproportionately affecting our senior citizens. When someone is in need of prescription medication, we should do whatever possible to make sure they are getting it at the best price possible. This is just another example of “Practical Solutions to Everyday Issues” that we are prioritizing this session.

 

The Virginia House of Delegates on Monday passed the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018. The package will return over $1 billion to customers over the next eight years, including a $200 million direct refund over the next two years -- meaning customers will see monthly savings on their electricity bill. The bill also passes on to customers more than $100 million in savings from federal tax reform faster than under existing law.

 

This unwinds the rate freeze four years ahead of schedule. Under this law, customers could see rate cuts as soon as 2021, three years sooner than current law.  The bill also reforms the oversight process, instituting streamlined three-year reviews of electric utility companies. The first review would be in 2021 and would consider earnings for 2017 through 2020.The current bill removes the requirement that utility companies overearn for two consecutive rate periods before issuing refunds, a provision included in previous versions.  The legislation also includes provisions that would safeguard ratepayers from potentially being charged twice for investments made by the utility company.  This issue, commonly referred to as “double-dipping,” has been addressed by the addition of clarifying language on the subject.

 

The bill also prioritizes investment in renewable energy, grid modernization and undergrounding power lines, helping lower costs over the long run. These investments cannot be used to justify a base rate increase in the future.

 

The legislation is now likely headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed.

 

I encourage you to keep in touch with me and my office over the coming months.  I value the feedback you provide on a continual basis as it helps me do a better job of representing you.  You can email me at DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov or call me at (804)698-1059.  You can also join the conversation on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.

 

I will be meeting with constituent groups after Session to report on the Session and take questions.

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