(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
RICHMOND, Va. — While Sen. Mark Warner round-tabled down the street on Tuesday with a group of gig-economy workers, Virginia’s junior senator, Democrat Tim Kaine, met with local black business leaders in Richmond on a five-day economic tour through the state.
Talk primarily focused on federal contracting, which Kaine said later was consistent with the most common concern voiced by Virginia business interests: sequestration and the federal budget. Kaine predicted he’d hear sequester questions wherever he goes.
“It might be procurement,” Kaine said. “It might be what happens if sequester hits, what are the defense cuts going to be? So a lot of the concern is in this federal budget space.”
On average, a 20-stop tour will lead to five great ideas for legislation, Kaine said, noting that a recent string of bills he’s introduced on opioids was inspired by a trip to southwest Virginia two springs ago. On Monday, he received a few ideas on how to improve care at a local Veterans Affairs hospital.
“Yesterday, I went to the [Hampton] VA hospital,” Kaine said. “They had the worst waiting times in the nation a year ago, now they are about the national average, from 30 days to about seven.”
Kaine asked what could be done to improve wait times even more, only to learn that red tape prevents Department of Defense hospital specialists from treating patients at VA hospitals without prior authorization. If DOD-qualified physicians could work in VA hospitals, that could speed up wait times, Kaine was told.
“I’d never heard that before,” Kaine said. “I didn’t realize DOD physicians couldn’t do it.”
Kaine also learned that the 2014 VA reform bill created a duplicate and conflicting system for when patients see private physicians.
“There was already within the VA the ability to refer people out to private physicians, but we set up two different structures where the reimbursement rates are different, some of the doctors who are in it are different, and it makes it extremely complicated,” Kaine said.
“Could we take the two programs — and there’s money for both — merge them into one and have a single set of criteria,” Kaine asked. “Makes perfect sense.”
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