The Senate overwhelming voted in favor of new legislation that will overhaul the Department of Veteran Affairs and improve health care access for veterans.
The bill follows through with President’s promise of expanding veterans’ opportunities to get private sector care, USA today reported this week. The $55 billion bill would change how the VA pays for private care, expand a VA caregiver program for pre-9/11 vets and start the process of reviewing the overall infrastructure of the VA itself.
The proposal, dubbed the VA Mission Act, passed with a 92 to 5 vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week before the vote that he anticipated the bill would reach President Trump before Memorial Day.
“This bicameral, bipartisan bill contains significant reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs which will increase and strengthen the healthcare and community care options available to America’s veterans,” he said.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) May 17, 2018
Some of the points of the legislation include:
- Consolidation of the VA community care programs
- Revisions to other VA health care programs and facilities provisions
- Appropriations for veterans’ care
- Creation of the Veterans Community Care Program to furnish hospital care, medical services and extended care services through certain non-VA providers to veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system or otherwise entitled to VA care
- Termination of the Veterans Choice Program after one year
- Expansion of the family caregiver program
- Review by the Office of Management and Budget of each enhanced-use facility
- Increased standards for VA health care quality and for non-VA care in areas of VA expertise
- Modernization or realignment of Veterans Health Administration facilities
- Creation of the Center for Innovation for Care and Payment and the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission
- Creation of pilot programs for medical scribes, mobile deployment teams for underserved facilities and graduate medical education
The legislation was supported by more than two dozen veterans’ groups including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.
One part of the legislation changes how the VA reimburses veterans for private care appointments.
The bill would replace the seven different systems currently in use and would call on VA doctors to decide when a veteran will benefit from seeing a private doctor rather than visiting a VA facility.
Critics suggest that this freedom will take resources away from VA care and push more veterans into the private sector. However, it will be up to VA leadership to decide the necessary rules for when veterans can go to private doctors rather than the VA.
Overall, the bill follows through with President Trump’s campaign promise of improving the health care system for the nation’s veterans, a system subject to a 2014 scandal in which VA employees were found to have altered patient wait lists.
Veterans ultimately died waiting for appointments in the Phoenix VA system, which prompted the creation of the Choice program.
Senators Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont; Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii; Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon; Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota, and Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, voted against the legislation.
Following the Senate’s vote, the bill now heads to President Trump’s desk to be signed.