President Bush’s Budget Proposal Would Increase Fees, Copayments for Some Veterans
President Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal -- to be announced on Monday -- would more than double some veterans' copayments for prescription drugs and implement a $250 "user fee" for health care services for some veterans, according to administration officials, the New York Times reports. Congressional aides who have seen budget documents said Bush would propose a $70.8 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $33.4 billion in discretionary spending, an increase of 2.7%, or $880 million.
Health care is responsible for "almost all" of VA's discretionary spending, according to the Times. Under the proposal, some veterans in "low-priority categories" -- those with higher incomes and no service-related disabilities -- would be charged $15 copayments for prescription drugs, up from $7, and be charged the "user fee," the Times reports. Although Bush administration officials said they did not know how many veterans would be affected by the fees and copayment increases, veterans' groups said that hundreds of thousands would end up paying more for health care and many veterans would be affected by both proposals. Veterans' groups asked for a $3.5 billion increase in the 2006 health care budget for VA, but congressional aides said that was unlikely.
Richard Fuller, legislative director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said, "The proposed increase in health spending is not sufficient at a time when the number of patients is increasing and there has been a huge increase in health care costs. It will not cover the need. The enrollment fee is a health care tax, designed to raise revenue and to discourage people from enrolling."
Cynthia Church, a VA spokesperson, said, "Our budget increase from 2001 to 2005 for health care alone has been more than 40%. President Bush has kept his commitment to veterans." The Times reports that some congressional Democrats indicated they would reject any proposal to limit veterans' benefits (Pear/Hulse, New York Times, 2/7).