KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Congress Wrestles With Best Way To Solve VA Problems

Lawmakers ponder whether to expand the system or just give veterans more opportunities to opt into private health care at federal expense. Some analysts say, though, that any fixes could be held up in the Senate by election year bickering.

Los Angeles Times: VA Healthcare Crisis Sparks Competing Solutions In Congress
Whether to expand the massive — and troubled — VA healthcare system or simply give veterans greater ability to seek private care promises to ignite Congress' customary partisan wrangling and complicate passage of reform legislation. Republican senators, led by John McCain of Arizona, on Tuesday rolled out the Veterans Choice Act , which would allow veterans facing weeks-long waits at VA facilities to seek care from private doctors, at the VA's expense. A more sweeping measure sponsored by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would give veterans who can't get timely appointments with VA doctors the option of going to community health centers, military hospitals or private doctors at the VA's expense (Simon, 6/3).

Politico: VA Reform Could Face Senate Deadlock
The Senate's fix to veterans health care problems might be headed down a familiar path: Right into the chamber's procedural chokehold. There are already signs that Veterans Affairs Department reform could become the next victim of the Senate's election-year legislative war over amendments votes. Those votes have killed popular tax break and energy efficiency bills in recent weeks and translated to a paucity of legislative votes since last summer (Everett and Herb, 6/4).

NPR: Can Civilian Health Care Help Fix The VA? Congress Weighs In
Veterans across the country are still waiting too long for medical care, a situation that drove the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last week. Now Republicans and Democrats in Congress are competing to pass laws they think will fix the problem of medical wait times and other problems at the VA. The discussion over how to reform veterans' health care is starting to sound familiar. … Another private sector solution on the table is a sort of voucher system, which Sen. John McCain has been pushing since his presidential campaign in 2008 (Lawrence, 6/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Top Lawmakers Call For Disclosure Of VA Hospital Data
Two top lawmakers leading Congress's probe of the Department of Veterans Affairs called on Tuesday for the agency to disclose internal analyses that measure treatment outcomes at VA hospitals. … The finding was based on internal VA data called Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning, or SAIL. The data, which the VA doesn't make public, rank and score more than 100 VA hospitals according to a variety of metrics, including infection and mortality rates (Paletta and Burton, 6/3).

McClatchy: GOP Senators Say Management, Not Money, Is The Problem At VA
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and three Republican colleagues on Tuesday announced support for legislation they say would tackle the root causes of treatment delays at veterans medical facilities by giving former service members the option of choosing private health care. Their measure would allow veterans unable to get an appointment in a timely way or who live more than 40 miles from a Department of Veterans Affairs facility to receive care from any doctor in Medicare or the military’s TRICARE health program. The legislation, which the Republican lawmakers unveiled at a press conference at the Capitol, also would establish penalties for VA workers who falsified data and would give the VA secretary the power to fire senior officials who performed their jobs poorly (Schoof, 6/3).

The Oregonian: VA Secretary Is Gone, But Portland Veterans Still Wait For Care
Dwight Hintz couldn't believe what he was hearing from the staffer at his regular Portland VA Medical Center clinic. He called Monday to say a hernia diagnosed by a civilian doctor was bulging and painful. He asked if he could get in to see his primary VA doctor. "The doctor asks if you can hold it in until your regular appointment in July," Hintz said the nurse told him. "Are you kidding me?" asked Hintz, 70, of Gresham, a retired Navy Seabee. So this week, Hintz is moving gingerly, a belt strapped around his lower belly, with a wallet stuffed over the hernia. He has become another unwilling symbol of the Department of Veterans Affairs' difficulty keeping up with the demand for its services from U.S. military veterans (Francis, 6/3).

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