KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Obama Signs $16.3B Overhaul Of Vets’ Health Care System

Military veterans who have been suffering long waiting times for medical care or live significant distances from VA facilities should be able to turn to private doctors almost immediately as a result of this law, which President Barack Obama signed Thursday. The measure also provides funding to hire new health care professionals. Already, though, some say that recruiting physicians to come into the system will present a challenge.

The New York Times: Obama Signs Bill Aimed At Fixing V.A. Shortfalls
Promising a major change in the “way the V.A. does business,” President Obama traveled to this Army base outside Washington on Thursday to sign a bill that will expand access to health care for veterans and strengthen the powers of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new leader to clean up abuses in its troubled network of hospitals (Landler, 8/7).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Signs $16.3-Billion VA Bill, Calls Mismanagement 'Outrageous'
The new law represent an unusually rapid response, and a rare increase in spending, from a Congress bitterly divided by most issues and bogged down in budget fights. It took a scandal to shake lawmakers into trying to reform the long troubled VA, which has faced growing stresses after more than a decade of American wars overseas (Hennessey, 8/7).

The Associated Press: Boost For Vets’ Health: Obama Signs New Law
Tens of thousands of military veterans who have been enduring long waits for medical care should be able to turn to private doctors almost immediately under a law signed Thursday by President Barack Obama. Other changes will take longer under the $16.3 billion law, which is the government’s most sweeping response to the problems that have rocked the Veterans Affairs Department and led to the ouster of Eric Shinseki as VA secretary (8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Signs VA Overhaul Bill
Congress passed the bill following months of turmoil at the VA, including the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May. The agency's widespread problems included manipulation of official records to hide the fact that veterans had to wait months to receive proper care. The VA has since taken steps to correct the worst deficiencies, the White House said, including reaching out to more than 217,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics. The agency also has added more clinic hours, recruited additional staff and deployed mobile medical units. The new law gives the VA secretary more power to fire underperforming executives in the department (Sparshott and Kesling, 8/7).

USA Today: Obama Signs Veterans Health Care Bill
The $16.3 billion plan enables the VA to hire more doctors and nurses at nearly 1,000 hospitals and other medical facilities across the country. It also makes it easier to dismiss poorly performing VA officials, and protects the rights of whistle blowers who point out the system's shortcomings. The legislation arose after reports of long wait times and sub-standard care at VA hospitals, and efforts by officials to cover up the problems. The job of improving veterans' health care does not end with a bill signing, Obama said (Jackson, 8/7).

Politico: Obama Signs Veterans Bill Into Law
Some veterans groups hailed the legislation, arguing that it marks an important step in fixing the VA. John Stroud, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement that the law will help McDonald “fix what’s broken, hold people accountable and restore the faith that veterans must have in their VA.” Still, some cautioned that there remains more work ahead. Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement that the legislation represents a “good first step toward healing the VA,” but it’s not a “silver bullet” (Wright, 8/7).

Modern Healthcare: VA Bill Signed Into Law, Now Doc-Recruitment Challenge Looms
|President Barack Obama has signed a bill that not only gives the Veterans Affairs Department billions more to contract out care for vets but also roughly $5 billion to hire more medical personnel. However, experts caution that the VA will need to do a superior marketing job to lure doctors away from the private sector. The process could prove challenging, they say (Dickson, 8/7).

McClatchy: Obama Signs Bill With More Money for VA Care
President Barack Obama signed a bill into law Thursday designed to restore trust in the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs following a national uproar over long waits and poor care at veterans’ hospitals and clinics across the nation. The $16.3 billion bill includes money for thousands of doctors, nurses and health care specialists at nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics. The money also will pay for veterans to receive private care if they live 40 miles or more from a VA facility, and it will finance the opening of 27 new medical facilities (Kumar, 8/7).

Bloomberg:  Obama Says Law Will Help Ends 'Inexcusable' VA Misconduct
President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that gives the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department new powers to fire agency executives for misconduct, saying it will ensure a “culture of accountability.” The law also permits veterans to seek private health care if waiting times at a government facility are too long and authorizes spending of $17 billion over five years to expand medical care and reduce case backlogs. In remarks to an audience that included service members preparing to leave the military, Obama called mismanagement at the VA “inexcusable" (Runningen, 8/7). 

In related news -

CNN: VA Blames ‘Confusion’ For Misstatements About Deaths
The Department of Veterans Affairs apologized on Thursday for causing "confusion" in communicating about the number of deaths caused by delayed care at its medical facilities, but said "there was no intent to mislead anyone." In a statement to CNN, the VA said two separate reviews were "intertwined in written and oral statements leading to confusion. ... VA inadvertently caused confusion in its communication on this complex set of reviews that were ongoing at the time. For that, we apologize" (Griffin, Bronstein and Black, 8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Disability Payments To Veterans More Than Doubled Since 2000
Disability payments to veterans ballooned to $54 billion in 2013 from $20 billion in 2000, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Overall, disability compensation accounted for 70% of the Veterans Benefits Administration's total mandatory spending in 2013 (Phillips, 8/7).

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