Bush’s Funding Increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs May Help Hospitals ‘Balance Books’
President Bush's proposed "cash infusion" for the Department of Veterans Affairs may allow Veterans Health Administration hospitals, which have "learned how to stretch a dollar" by working with "tight budgets for years now," to "balance the books" while continuing health care innovations, MPR's "Marketplace" reports. Bush's proposed fiscal year 2003 federal budget includes a "boost" of $6.1 billion for the department, a "modest" increase "given the huge gap" in VA finances. VA Acting Undersecretary for Health Dr. Frances Murphy said the "justification" for the 8.2% increase is in part to help the VA health system meet the rising cost of pharmaceuticals and other medical care. VA Boston Healthcare System Acting Associate Director William Burney said, "As with any federal agency or any health care organization right now ... the budget is always an issue. We can always use more money."
As the VA "cut, consolidated and streamlined its bureaucracy" in response to the tight budgets of recent years, its hospitals have become "health care innovators," implementing electronic medical records, barcode medication administration and an "outstanding" safety program, Burney said. MPR reports that the VA's National Center for Patient Safety won the Harvard Innovations in Government Award in 2001. "We actually find that building quality into health care is not costly. It can reduce the cost," Murphy noted. However, Dartmouth Medical School Dean Dr. John Baldwin said that the VA's innovations have not "plugged" its deficit, in part because fewer than 20% of VA patients have health insurance. According to Baldwin, the VA health system also faces rising patient volumes, increased use, unfunded mandates, obligatory pay increases for staff and aging buildings and equipment. MPR reports that the VA is introducing an annual $1,500 deductible for "higher-income" veterans whose health problems are not service related (Palmer, "Marketplace," MPR, 2/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.