Bush Approves ‘Emergency’ Designation for VA Funding
President Bush on Monday agreed to a request from Congress to designate $1.2 billion in funding for veterans' health care as emergency spending, CQ Today reports. Bush asked Congress for additional funding last year after a shortfall was projected in the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care budget.
VA officials have indicated the shortfall "was caused by an unexpected surge in the number of veterans seeking treatment at the VA" and the growing costs of long-term care, CQ Today reports.
Bush did not originally request that the funding -- included in the fiscal year 2006 Military Construction-VA spending bill -- be designated as emergency spending, which protects the money from congressionally imposed caps on discretionary spending and allows it to be used during the current fiscal year. Congress then used a budget maneuver to designate the $1.2 billion in funding as "contingent emergency" spending, which requires approval of the president to become emergency spending.
Bush in a letter dated Jan. 28 to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "I did not designate the funds as emergency requirement when I submitted the FY 2006 budget amendment. While I believe this funding should be categorized as part of the VA's base budget, it is critical that this funding be made available to meet veterans' needs."
Some Democratic aides said they were concerned that the VA health care budget might not cover expenses in FY 2007 if the emergency spending for FY 2006 is designated under VA's base funding level (Starks, CQ Today, 1/30).
White House officials and congressional aides said that President Bush plans to request a new enrollment fee and increased prescription drug copayments for some veterans in his fiscal year 2007 budget proposal, CQ Today reports. According to the officials and aides, the proposal "will be virtually identical to last year's request," which would have established a $250 enrollment fee and increased prescription drug copays from $7 to $15 for some veterans based on their income and disability levels, CQ Today reports.
Congress last year rejected the proposal, which Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson estimated would have raised $1.1 billion in revenue (Starks, CQ Today, 1/27).
In addition to that proposal, several veterans groups said that, according to sources at the Department of Defense, Bush in his FY 2007 budget proposal plans to request an increase in some fees for TRICARE, the military health care program. According to the Military Officers Association of America, the proposal over three years would increase the enrollment fee for TRICARE Prime, the managed care version of the program, from $230 to as high as $750 for an individual and from $460 to as high as $1,500 for a family.
In addition, the proposal over three years would increase the enrollment fee for TRICARE Standard, the fee-for-service version of the program, from $150 to as high as $600 for an individual and from $300 to as high as $1,200 for a family. The enrollment fee increases would begin in 2009. Under the proposal, copays in FY 2007 would increase from $3 to $9 for generic medications and from $5 to $15 for brand-name treatments (Starks, CQ Today, 1/26).
Rep. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in a letter from Democrats sent to Bush on Jan. 27 wrote, "With tens of thousands of service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom will return home this year, each of us has a responsibility to ensure that the VA health care system receives full appropriated funding -- without reliance on increasing out-of-pocket fees to veterans or cutting services" (CQ Today, 1/27).