KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Senate Clears $16.3 Billion Plan To Overhaul Vets Health Care System

The measure, which was approved by the House Wednesday, will now move to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.

NPR: Congress Approves $16.3 Billion VA Health Care Bill
With a 91-3 vote in the Senate Thursday, Congress has passed a massive $16.3 billion bill to address problems with health care for veterans and other problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill now moves forward to the White House for President Obama's signature. The House voted overwhelmingly to approve the bill on Wednesday (Mullins, 7/31). 

The Associated Press: Congress Sends VA Overhaul To White House
The legislation is a response to reports of veterans dying while awaiting appointments to see VA doctors and cover-ups of the delays at several of the VA's 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics. The bill devotes $10 billion in emergency spending over three years to pay private doctors and other health professionals to care for qualifying veterans who can't get timely appointments at VA hospitals or clinics or who live more than 40 miles from one of them. It includes $5 billion for hiring more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country (Daly, 7/31). 

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Passes $17 Billion Bill To Help Pay For VA Overhauls
Although the legislation passed the Senate handily, there were still dissenters who objected, in large part to the cost. Some of those objections stemmed from a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the measure would add some $10 billion to the deficit over the next decade. One of the dissenting senators was Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), who said the bill was rushed through Congress before legislators had time to work with the new VA secretary to determine needed, yet cost-effective, reforms. The new bill isn't fiscally responsible, he said (Kesling, 7/31). 

The Washington Post: Senate Sends VA, Transportation Bills To Obama On Eve Of Summer Recess
On veterans affairs, senators voted 91 to 3 to approve legislation injecting more than $16 billion into VA to help deal with extensive treatment delays and a recent record-keeping scandal. Republican Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) voted no because the legislation lacked spending cuts to match the new funding (Hicks and Halsey, 7/31). 

Politico: Senate Sends VA Reform Bill To Obama
The legislation was approved as Robert McDonald prepares to take control of the VA. There has been an acting head in charge of the agency since Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary in May (French, 7/31). 

CBS: VA Reform Bill Clears Senate, Awaits Obama’s Signature
A bill to reform the beleaguered Veterans Affairs health care system cleared the Senate by a wide bipartisan vote on Thursday evening. The law now heads to President Obama's desk just before lawmakers depart for their August recess. The $16.3 billion proposal, which passed by a margin of 91-3, includes $10 billion to allow veterans who are unable to receive a timely appointment within the VA system to seek care from outside providers. (Miller, 7/31).

Reuters: U.S. Senate Passes $16.3B Veterans Health Bill
The 91-3 vote sends the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law just before Congress starts a five-week summer recess. The plan, which contains $10 billion in new emergency spending that is not offset by any budget savings, aims to clear months-long waiting lists for healthcare appointments at VA hospitals and clinics across the country. It allows veterans access to private doctors at the department's expense if they are forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles (65 km) from a VA facility (Lawder, 7/31).

In other news related to veterans' health care -

Detroit Free Press: Federal Counsel Says VA Didn't Fully Investigate Ann Arbor Claims
A top Veterans Affairs official who retired after his division was criticized for downplaying whistle-blower claims refused to reopen an investigation into complaints at the VA facility in Ann Arbor, despite allegations that sterile conditions there may have been compromised. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Carolyn Lerner, who heads the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said the VA's Office of Medical Inspector (OMI) wasn't "fully responsive" to complaints made at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System about personnel wearing potentially contaminated clothing, and construction going on near a sterile supply room without an appropriate barrier (Spangler, 7/31).

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