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October 30, 2014

VA Health Care Deal Reached; Miller, Sanders Plan to Announce Monday (Updated)

sanders 027 040913 445x296 VA Health Care Deal Reached; Miller, Sanders Plan to Announce Monday (Updated)

Sanders (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:39 p.m. | A $15 billion VA health care deal has been reached after a weekend of negotiating to resolve differences between the House and Senate.

House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., are planning to outline their agreement on a measure that would overhaul veterans health programs on Monday, aides said Sunday. The two lawmakers have scheduled a news conference for 1:30 p.m. Monday.

According to a summary of the agreement obtained by CQ Roll Call, the negotiators agreed to $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending — $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA, like hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. That’s $5 billion more than Miller offered on Thursday and about $10 billion less than Sanders sought.

To qualify for the private care option, veterans would have to be experiencing long wait times or be located more than 40 miles from a VA facility. They would be able to access providers who already participate in Medicare.

The news comes as the Senate is also on track to confirm former Proctor & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the nation’s next secretary of Veterans Affairs before departing for the August break.

In addition, the proverbial smell of August recess jet fumes emanating from Reagan National Airport may alleviate any significant procedural delays.

Since much of the debate has focused on the cost of increasing access to care for veterans, the Miller-Sanders proposal will come under scrutiny in that context. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., one of only three to vote against the original Senate-passed bill, said as much in a statement issued Friday.

“Neither the House nor the Senate should take a vote on the conference legislation until there is a complete score from the Congressional Budget Office so members have the opportunity to review the impact the bill will have on future generations,” Corker said. “I want to thank the conference committee for their work and continue to urge them to keep their assurances that they will find a way to improve the bill and ensure it is totally paid for during the same time the money is being spent.”

Several senators were vocal in disagreeing with the off-the-charts CBO cost estimates for the base bills. The CBO had estimated both bills would eventually generate about $50 billion a year or so in new costs, mostly from a predicted surge in demand for private care outside of the VA system.

To alleviate concerns about the deficit, the deal caps the costs. The $15 billion would remain available until expended, with some lawmakers expecting it to last for more than a year.

The cost of the bill once scored by CBO is likely to be a few billion cheaper, notes Ed Lorenzen, a senior advisor at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That’s because the CBO has previously estimated that beefed up care at the VA would reduce costs for Medicare, Medicaid and employer-provided health care — generating savings and higher tax revenue elsewhere in the budget.

The compromise legislation also permits the VA secretary to dismiss or downgrade employees in an expedited fashion based on performance or misconduct. It would also prevent wait-time metrics from being used in determining a VA employee’s eligibility for a bonus, and would authorize the VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases throughout the country.

The deal caps a sometimes rocky negotiation between the two lawmakers co-chairing a 28-member conference committee tasked with finding a solution to long wait times at VA hospitals and clinics amid numerous reports that VA employees manipulated the department’s scheduling system to make wait times appear shorter than they really were.

The two men sparred last week, with Sanders refusing to attend an open conference meeting called by Miller Thursday to announce his offer of a bill capped at $10 billion.

But any bad blood quickly subsided.

“I have every intention of getting a conference report done with Sen. Sanders,” Miller told reporters on Friday. “That is the goal and there is no fallback position.”

Sunday afternoon, it appeared Miller and Sanders had achieved their goal.

Connor O’Brien and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

Related:

No Vacation Until Congress Fixes VA, Democrats Demand

  • mikem42

    I hope this is a good sign that a bill is forthcoming, and no shenanigans take place. Sen. Corker of Tennessee is on a high horse about paying for it, but won’t go after gas and oil subsidies. The House just passed a bill that increases the budget over 50 billion the next ten years, without paying for it. It increases the child tax credit for high income families, while cutting lower income families. They (R’s) have no clue about how to govern in the real world. Yes, they want to go home for vacation and fund raising, so expediency wins out the day.

  • Jimh77

    If these A s s H o l e s do not pass a bill that takes care of our veterans, instant treason and ship them off to Gitmo for their end of days. Screw these politicians that want to ship Americans into war and then say no to any hep when they return. Vietnam is over, those dark days have to be eliminated. Today’s politicians are 100% worthless and need to be eliminated. What is wrong with people today that keep voting these AH’s back in office? Grow a pair and move forward.

    I see the Damn freedom of speech killers are at it again…. CNN, you should be ashamed.

  • Rowan Oath Keepers

    This is the only answer a SOCIALIST knows. Throw my money at it and hope it sticks. Sanders is a socialist and proud of it. The only reason he does not claim to be communist is the fear of giving the commies a bad name.

    • Rowan is an idiot

      It’s funny that there are never socialist comments written when the topic is Medicare, Medicaid, or tax deductions on pension plans/401k’s.

      • Rowan Oath Keepers

        What part of my comment is incorrect? Barney is a proud, admitted socialist. He has praised the communist system and has submitted congressional bills which drive our nation towards the socialist state.

        Instead of calling names, how about using some facts about good ol Bernie.

    • rvauthor

      Wow! An article about making changes to the VA for veterans injured in combat or suffering from medical injuries or illnesses associated with military service. What branch of the service did you serve in that equates providing healthcare to veterans to be socialism (or were you one of the 99% that stayed home)?

  • John McCarey

    The VA gets a cash infusion of 15b the day before the VA gets a new boss. He hasn’t been allowed to determine what needs to be done yet, but he will have all of that money. Thanks for nothing! How about giving the reward after the fixes are demonstrated. NO MORE BONUSES, PERIOD.

    • Rowan Oath Keepers

      I served for over 20 years. Thanks for asking. I will make my point again. Bernie is a SOCIALIST who believe throwing money at the VA system will fix it. As a person who worked for the VA after my military service, I can tell you MONEY is not the answer.

  • Packard Day

    Aside from Eric Shinseki and a handful of already planning to retire VA bureaucrats, no one has yet to lose their sacred federal jobs as a result of the fraud and incompetence in the veterans hospital system.

    Giving $25 billion to the VA without first requiring the removal of all the guilty and ne’er do wells in charge is worse than a waste of money. It is an outrage.

    • jason nunya

      Funny that you people never say the same incendiary remarks when the same happens at a corporation, and thousands of workers lose their jobs and retirements. Corporatists so thoroughly abused the pension system, that we don’t even bother with it anymore. Where’s the outrage over the millions of people screwed over by a handful of greedy businessmen?

      Never forget, we wouldn’t need all of these govt functions, if the people running private businesses weren’t so consistently evil in their treatment of their fellow man.

      • Rowan Oath Keepers

        Yes Jason you are so correct. We should all go out and get a job from a poor man. Oh wait, poor people do not create jobs.

        • jason nunya

          Consumers don’t create jobs?

          Only in Ayn Rand’s works of fiction.

        • rvauthor

          Rich people don’t create many jobs when their money is stashed in the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, Switzerland, etc. while they avoid paying taxes.

      • Packard Day

        I do not suspect a private enterprise would last long were it ever to be run like the Veterans Administration. No one would long put up with such incompetence and horrible service.

        No, I think giving the VA hierarchy a $25 billion blank check is much more akin to seeing the management of the winless Detroit Lions a few years ago (0-16) go out and resign all of the worthless players and loser coaches to long term contracts. And just to be sure, give everyone on the team associated with the utter failure a pay raise in hopes of changing next years outcome.

        That Jason, is our VA as it stands today.

    • rvauthor

      It sounds good to say “requiring the removal of all the guilty and ne’er do wells in charge is worse than a waste of money”. It’s a shame we didn’t do that when the neocons invaded Iraq with substantially less troops than that originally advised by the Army and had them driving around for three years in unarmored vehicles. Do you have any recommendations that would improve the delivery of healthcare to veterans while you search for the “guilty and ne’er” employees?

  • rvauthor

    We’ll see just how much funding is provided, and for how long it is provided, when and if we ever get any real details about the funding. The last I saw being reported was that the Republicans were cutting the length of time that non-VA medical services would be provided.

    • mysty Blue

      Obama has been cutting benefits for a long time. Now he has a new thing…get the veterans DNA (million vets)..then find out if the parents have the same thing.. like diabetes. Thrn they can say you got it from your dad, not agent orange. It hereditary…!
      As for healthy vets not wounded… they get 5 years of medical.(obama started that). then they out on their azz. Tge republicans haven’t done it. Obamas administration started it. Don’t believe everything you hear. Veterans KNOW WHO IS TRYING TO DO THEM IN. Even if YOU DON’T!

  • mysty Blue

    Why are babies allowed in the VA? WHY do they turn the lights out on the nurses making them sleepy and slow to respond to emergencys? They say quiet time, i say all the noise is in the patients rooms with all the kids running around. I fall asleep reading this in the dark, I can only imagine how the nurses feel. HOW MUCH OF A BONUS DID THE BOZO GET FOR STARTING THAT??? as long as VA makes the nurses sleepy by turning the lights out, it’s STILL A DANGEROUS PLACE. Do they turn the lights out in surgery for quiet time? How do the nurses set up medicine and hyperdetmic needles IN THE DARK? REFORM VA…FIRE THE MANAGEMENT! TURN THE DAMNED LIGHTS ON!!!!!!! (What the hell is wrong with these azzoles).

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