Senate OKs VA Proposal, Lawmakers Expected To Pursue Unified Bill
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 93-2 to approve a bipartisan bill (S 2450) that would address recent allegations of delayed care at Veterans Affairs health centers across the country, the Washington Post's "Federal Eye" reports (Hicks , "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/11).
The measure would:
- Allow veterans who are on a waiting list for health care services, or who live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility, to seek care from private physicians for two years;
- Prohibit bonuses to VA staff for meeting scheduling goals;
- Authorize VA to lease 26 major medical centers in 17 states and Puerto Rico;
- Boost care delivery for veterans who have experienced sexual and domestic abuse;
- Allow VA officials to quickly fill open medical positions suffering from the greatest shortages;
- Require VA to report to Congress how it carries out audit recommendations (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/11);
- Offer veterans in-state tuition at any public university;
- Grant the VA secretary broader authority to fire or demote low-performing senior VA staff members (Hicks , "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/11); and
- Create an independent commission on scheduling and health care services, as well as a separate panel aimed at examining how the department can best serve veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq (Weisman/Steinhauer, New York Times, 6/5).
The bill also would allow VA to use $500 million of its current budget to hire more medical staff. According to a Congressional Budget Office report, the Senate measure would raise direct spending by $35 billion over the next decade (Hicks , "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/11). In addition, CBO said the measure could encourage veterans to seek more care, costing an additional $50 billion annually to meet the demands (Lesniewski, "#WGDB," Roll Call, 6/11).
VA Legislation Prospects
According to the Post's "The Fed Page," "Congress is moving uncharacteristically fast" to pass legislation addressing the wait-time allegations (Hicks/O'Keefe, "The Fed Page," Washington Post, 6/10). The Senate-approved measure is similar to a bill (HR 4810) that the House passed on Tuesday (Hicks , "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/11).
Since the bills contain many similar provisions, observers say a compromise measure could soon be sent to President Obama for his consideration (Daly , AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/12).
According to "Federal Eye," the Senate bill now will proceed to the House, where House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Committee ranking member Mike Michaud (D-Maine) will begin drafting a final unified bill (Hicks , "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/11).
On Wednesday, the White House indicated that Obama supports the Senate measure. It noted, "Our No. 1 priority is getting veterans the care they've earned," adding, "To do that, we need to make sure that the problems identified at VA medical facilities get fixed" (Daly , AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/12).
FBI Launches Criminal Investigation at Phoenix VA Health Center
In related news, FBI has launched a criminal probe into the allegations of cover-ups of long wait times for appointments at VA health centers, according to FBI Director James Comey, the New York Times reports.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Comey said FBI agents based in Phoenix are leading the investigation of the city's VA medical center, where claims about the wait-time issues originated (New York Times, 6/11).
According to the Post's "Federal Eye," the FBI is reviewing VA records to determine whether hospital administrators intentionally manipulated wait-time data in order to cover up delays to receive performance bonuses (Hicks , "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 6/11). Comey said the agency would follow evidence in the investigation to "wherever the facts take us" (Barrett, Wall Street Journal, 6/11).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.