Lawmakers Unveil VA Wait-Time Bill, Passage Expected This Week
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who each chair their chamber's respective committees on veterans' affairs, outlined the bill during a news conference Monday afternoon (Schleifer/Oppel, New York Times, 7/28).
House and Senate negotiators last month began working on a unified bill that would increase and improve veterans' access to health care following revelations that many veterans had faced long wait times at various VA health centers, which likely led to numerous deaths of patients. Both the House and Senate passed similar bills (S 2450, HR 4810) intended to address the allegations.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Senate bill would cost $35 billion over three years, while the House bill would cost $44 billion over six years.
The deal comes after prior negotiations stalled on the effort because of differences between the House and Senate on the total cost of a bill and how to fund it (California Healthline, 7/28).
The legislation is expected to cost about $17 billion, including $12 billion in new emergency funding and $5 billion from spending cuts within the VA system (O'Keeffe, Washington Post, 7/28).
The bill includes $10 billion to allow veterans facing long wait times or distances to seek private care outside the VA health system and $5 billion for VA to hire additional providers (Bratek, Los Angeles Times, 7/28).
Veterans would be able to seek care at private facilities if they are not able to obtain an appointment at a VA health center within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA center.
According to the New York Times, VA still would coordinate much of the private care, including assisting with scheduling appointments and obtaining a copy of the health record from the medical visit (New York Times, 7/28).
In addition, the compromise bill would:
- Give the VA secretary more power to fire top-level employees based on their performance;
- Extend a VA pilot program to treat veterans with brain injuries in private rehabilitation facilities and a program to assist veterans in rural areas far from VA medical facilities in accessing care (Kesling/Crittenden, Wall Street Journal, 7/28);
- Provide $1.5 billion in funding for VA to lease 27 new facilities (New York Times, 7/28);
- Expand veterans' eligibility for receiving in-state tuition at public universities (O'Brien, CQ Roll Call, 7/28); and
- Allow VA to provide counseling and other services to veterans who experienced sexual trauma during their time of service (Sanders release, 7/28).
The bill also would require VA to report to lawmakers on how the agency plans to upgrade its scheduling system (Wall Street Journal, 7/28). However, the legislation does not include funding to upgrade the system, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 7/28).
Negotiators Predict Easy Passage
Negotiators said they expect both the House and Senate to pass the legislation this week, the Post reports. Miller said, "Taking care of our veterans is not an inexpensive proposition, and our members understand that" (Washington Post, 7/28). He added that, as of Monday afternoon, no lawmakers had told him they opposed the deal (CQ Roll Call, 7/28).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.