Sunday, December 21, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Lawmakers seek lower price for bill on vets’ care

By
From page A10 | July 12, 2014 |

WASHINGTON — Stung by sticker shock, members of Congress are scrambling to lower the cost of a bill to fix veterans’ health care amid a growing uproar over long waits for appointments and falsification of records to cover up the delays at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

At the same time, deficit hawks fear that letting veterans turn more to providers outside the VA for health care could cost far more if Congress, under pressure from powerful veterans groups, decides to renew that program rather than let it expire in two years.

Lawmakers in both parties agree on the need to reform the Veterans Affairs Department’s health care network — the largest in the country — following reports of veterans dying while awaiting appointments at VA hospitals or clinics. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in May. A half-dozen other VA officials have resigned or retired since then.

The VA’s inspector general has confirmed that at least 35 veterans died while awaiting appointments at the agency’s Phoenix medical center alone, but he has yet to report on the results of investigations into whether delays in treatment were responsible for any of the deaths.

The latest analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates a Senate-passed bill would cost $35 billion through 2016 to build new clinics, hire doctors and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. The CBO put the price tag of a similar measure passed by the House at $44 billion.

More troubling for lawmakers are long-term costs. As currently designed, the legislation would relieve a big backlog of veterans awaiting appointments by letting them seek care outside the VA system, but that the expansion would expire after two years. Fiscal conservatives worried about swelling deficits fear lawmakers will yield to inevitable pressure from veterans to keep it.

“Once a benefit is provided to a large group of people it is hard to take it away, so there will be intense pressure on Congress to continue the benefit,” said Ed Lorenzen of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington-based group that advocates for lower deficits.

“I believe in choice and I hope that we will be able to continue to allow the policy change for choice to continue beyond the two years,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “But what we’re faced with now is trying to erase the backlog that is plaguing VA and preventing veterans from getting timely access to their earned benefit of health care.”

Once fully in place, the provision granting veterans easier access to private care could cost the government about $38 billion a year — almost as much as the $44 billion the government now spends annually on medical care for veterans, the budget office says.

Miller and other lawmakers have questioned the CBO estimates, saying the budget agency used faulty assumptions and did not account for provisions that would save money.

“I believe we can come up with very strong legislation at a lower cost than the initial CBO estimate,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate veterans panel.

Miller and Sanders co-chair a House-Senate conference committee that is trying to negotiate a compromise bill to address long patient wait times and other problems at the Veterans Affairs Department. Bills passed last month by each house would require the VA to pay private providers to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get prompt appointments at the VA’s nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics or who live at least 40 miles from one of them.

The bill also would make it easier to fire or demote senior agency officials and end bonuses to senior VA executives based on meeting patient scheduling goals — a practice investigators say led some officials to create phony waiting lists to “game” the system.

The main obstacle is the bill’s price tag — and how to pay it. The Democratic-controlled Senate treats the issue as an emergency and would allow virtually unlimited spending. The House bill, written largely by Republicans, requires Congress to appropriate money each year under existing budget caps for the overhaul. The cost would have to be covered through either higher taxes or cuts in other programs.

Costs also could spike depending on the rate VA pays private providers, the CBO said. The Senate bill would allow veterans who can’t get timely VA appointments to see doctors listed as providers under Medicare or the military’s TRICARE program. The House bill does not specify who would provide the care or the rates they would be paid.

More than 8 million of the nation’s 21 million veterans are now enrolled in VA health care, although only about 6.5 million seek VA treatment every year. The CBO analysts said the VA now covers about 30 percent, or an average $5,200, of those veterans’ annual health care costs, excluding long-term care.

By making it easier to get outside care, the House and Senate bills would encourage millions of veterans who currently do not receive VA care to get it, the CBO said. Millions of currently enrolled veterans also can be expected to seek a bigger portion of their health care coverage through VA, the budget office said.

Whatever the final price tag, lawmakers also must agree on how to pay the bill’s costs.

Congress will need to “go outside the VA to look for offsets” to pay for expanded care, Miller said. Sanders called the situation a crisis that deserved an emergency response — budget language for borrowing the money.

“Nobody ever said this is going to be easy,” Miller said. “The Senate is locked down on it being all emergency funds. The House has a very different tack.”

The VA bill “is not going to be paid for by cutting education or food stamps,” Sanders said in a speech on the Senate floor. “That ain’t going to happen.”

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 2 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Shanna WieserJuly 11, 2014 - 4:47 pm

    Washington you should have thought of that cost as part of you was costand planned aaccordingly. Did you plan for higher disposable bodies or just an error. Take it off the prison budget not the men & women who served this country.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Shanna WieserJuly 11, 2014 - 4:52 pm

    Auto correct, yuck. Your; cost and accordingly.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

The Salvation Army serves 1,000-plus across 2 days

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1, 5 Comments | Gallery

 
Blue Christmas service offers reflection, hope

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1

Shining bright for all to see: Locals deck out yards, homes

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: C1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Time for annual Solano County quiz

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

Bevy of holiday activities at Western Railway Museum

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
State Fair scholarship applications available

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Get tested, know your status

By Morgan Westfall | From Page: C4

 
Free New Year’s celebration slated

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

 
 
New development fees start Jan. 1 in Vacaville

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

A word of warning for Senator Warren

By Bud Stevenson | From Page: B7, 6 Comments

 
New technology chief will join McNaughton Newspapers

By Tanya Perez | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Suisun City police log: Dec. 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Fairfield police log: Dec. 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Sky-high price has VA rationing hep C drug

By Tom Philpott | From Page: B10

.

US / World

Air Force admits nuke flaws, but will fixes work?

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
AP sources: Cops’ killer angry at chokehold death

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 7 Comments

 
Officials: Missing dog was dyed to deceive

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Immigrants build document trails to remain in US

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
California officer kills teen after machete attack

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

 
4 teens die in fiery head-on crash in Pennsylvania

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

2 dozen injured in southern Indiana bus crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Texas ranchers seeking alternative incomes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7, 1 Comment

 
Panama’s Noriega in prison 25 years post-invasion

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

North Korea proposes joint probe over Sony hacking

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
2 car bombs rock southern Sweden’s city of Malmo

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Bombings kill 12 in Iraq

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

 
US sends 4 Afghans back home from Guantanamo

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Burying the dead after Pakistan’s school massacre

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
A chance to breach divide for young in Cuba and US

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

Editorial Cartoon: Dec. 21, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
New school finance strategy lacks accountability

By Dan Walters | From Page: A8

Season’s greetings from the Obamas

By Alexandra Petri | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Sound off for Dec. 21, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Today in History: Dec. 21, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Vatican offers olive branch to US nuns

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3, 1 Comment

Why celebrate Christmas?

By Noel Reese | From Page: C3, 2 Comments

 
Horoscopes: Dec. 21, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: C4

Should I ask grandson why we weren’t included in wedding photos?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: C4

 
.

Entertainment

Review: ‘Five’ by Ursula Archer is intriguing

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

 
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

Publisher hopes to sell books through Twitter

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

 
Chris Colfer has multi-book deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sustained by brief blaze of glory

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

.

Sports

New Giants 3B McGehee eager to play back home

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Interim coaching jobs present challenges in bowls

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

49ers squander 21-point lead in 4th straight loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
No. 11 Lady Vols trounce No. 7 Stanford 59-40

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Eagles near elimination, fall 27-24 to Redskins

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Raiders place cornerback Brown on injured reserve

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Big moves bring big hope for Chicago baseball

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
US skier Nyman wins Gardena downhill for 3rd time

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Vonn wins women’s World Cup downhill in France

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
This date in sports history for Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
.

Business

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
On the money: 4 ways to hold on to your cash when renting a car

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Recalls this week: Bean bag chairs, toy monkeys

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Scarecrows outnumber people in dying Japan town

By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

.

Obituaries

Marian Kay Zutz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Bart Ferro

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Dominic C. Scolaro

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Barbara Jean Bidstrup Braker

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Perry Michael Smetts

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Luzdivina B. Banks

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Arnold Howard Evans

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Anthony Hanson Elder

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

.

Comics