KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Congress’ Desire For Quick VA Fix Complicated By Costs

Even as Senate and House negotiators are getting ready to try to forge a compromise on their bills, some members are raising concerns about the price tag that would come with an effort to let veterans who can't get timely appointments at the VA go to private doctors or hospitals.

Los Angeles Times: Fixing VA Mess Could Cost Billions, Complicating Congress Talks
The rush to fix the VA mess is running into an age-old Washington problem: where to find the money. Legislation to allow veterans facing long waits at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities to seek private healthcare could cost $50 billion or more a year, complicating efforts in Congress to swiftly come to agreement on a compromise bill (Simon, 6/18). 

The Washington Post: The Costs Of The Senate VA Bill
Three Republicans and at least one think-tank have opposed the bipartisan veterans affairs bill that passed the Senate with overwhelming support last week, saying the legislation was rushed to a vote before the costs were known. So what do we know about the measure's price tag? First, let’s look at the language of the bill. The provisions largely address the scheduling scandal within the Department of Veterans Affairs' health system, but they also expand certain benefits for former troops and their families (Hicks, 6/18).

Politico: House Creates VA Conference Committee
House and Senate lawmakers moved closer on Wednesday to new reforms to help fix problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs' medical facilities. The House approved legislation to convene a conference committee on the two VA-focused bills that would allow veterans to seek private care if they waited longer than a "standard" period of time for treatment. The bill would also give VA leadership the ability to fire department officials found to be involved with misconduct or who are under-performing (French, 6/18).

The Associated Press: VA Chief: More Vets Wait 30 Days for Appointment
About 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment -- more than twice the percentage of veterans the government said last week were forced to endure long waits, the acting veterans affairs secretary said Wednesday. Sloan Gibson said the higher number of veterans waiting 30 days or more is revealed in a report due out Thursday. He called the increase unfortunate, but said it was probably an indication that more reliable data was being reported by VA schedulers, rather than an actual increase in veteran wait times (Daly, 6/18).

Despite the efforts in Congress, a pilot program that offers some veterans access to private care faces an uncertain future.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Future Uncertain For VA Rural Health Pilot Program
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program offering timely, quality health care to rural veterans is being allowed to expire in a few months, even as major legislation moves through both houses of Congress that would have similar goals as the pilot program. The pilot program is called Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH. It’s offered at five sites -- Pratt, Kansas; Caribou, Maine; Farmville, Virginia; Flagstaff, Arizona, and Billings and Anaconda, Montana. The program allows veterans to get health services from community providers if they live at least one hour from a VA health facility (Thompson, 6/19).

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