Congress is back and on January 21, 2015, the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) held their Committee organizational meeting followed by a hearing on the Denver Medical Center construction project which is behind schedule and way over budget. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) also held their organizational meeting on January 21 and considered HR 203 "Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act" and was voted out of Committee unanimously and referred for Senate floor consideration. The United States Senate passed HR 203 on February 3 and the President is expected to sign the legislation.
On January 22, HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) introduced HR 473 which proposed major VA accountability reforms. The bill gives the VA Secretary more authority to hold corrupt executives accountable, limit the amount of time VA senior executive service (SES) employees can spend on paid administrative leave, reform VA's SES performance appraisal system so only 30% could receive top performance ratings and quality for bonuses and require additional transparency regarding SES performance outcomes, and require that all SES employees change jobs within the department at least once every five years. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced a similar measure (S.290) in the Senate.
The week of January 26 saw hearings by the HVAC and the House Energy and Committee's Health Subcommittee. The HVAC received testimony on legislation introduced in the 114th Congress as follows:
HR 189; Veterans Foreclosure Extension Act
HR 216; VA Budget Planning Reform Act
HR 245; Amend USC 38 regarding claims under law administered by VA Secretary
HR 280; Authorizes VA Secretary to recoup bonuses
HR 294; Long Term Care Veterans Choice Act
The House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee received testimony on the following:
Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act – based on HR 235 which passed the House of Representatives during 113th Congress.
National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Reauthorization Act – to be introduced.
Trauma Systems and Regionalization of Emergency Care Authorization Act – based on HR 4080 which passed the House during 113th Congress.
Access to Life-Saving Trauma Care for All Americans Act – to be introduced.
Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act, based on HR 4299 which was reported out of committee during 113th Congress.
HR 471 Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act – based on HR 4069 which passed House during 113th Congress.
The HVAC Health Subcommittee held a hearing on January 28, “Examining the Quality and Cost of VA Health Care”. Witnesses were Matthew Goldberg, Deputy Assistant Director, National Security Division, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Carl Blake, Associate Executive Director for Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America (on behalf of the Co-Authors of the Independent Budget), Louis Celli, Jr. Director, Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, The American Legion and Dr. James Tuchschmidt, Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, VHA, Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to conduct a study "Comparing the Costs of the Veterans Health Care System with Private-Sector Costs". An excerpt from the report summarizes their findings as follows: "The best study CBO could identify that compared the costs of health care directly provided by VHA with private-sector care was published in 2004, based on data from 1999. The authors of that study had access to detailed administrative data from six VHA medical centers and the clinical charts from the veterans treated at those centers in 1999. CBO could not replicate that study with more recent data, both because it had limited time and resources to perform its analysis and because, with few exceptions, VHA does not make either existing administrative data or clinical records (even with personal identifying information removed) available to researchers in other government agencies, universities or elsewhere. Additional systemwide data fromVHA would have facilitated the comparison of costs for care provided directly from VHA with the costs for care offered by the private sector. For example, it would be useful to know the average salaries, performance pay, and other elements for compensation that VHA provides for its physicians in various specialties and for its other clinicians; the number of patients its clinicians treat per unit of time (for example, in a typical week) and the length and intensity of those encounters; and the average prices it pays for pharmaceutical products — but VHA does not report that information publicly."
Judging from the questions and responses it is not clear what patient data VHA is collecting, but they will not make the data available to others including the CBO.
On February 3 the Chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees visited the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D. C.
The week of February 9, the HVAC added two additional members, Representatives Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Tim Walz (D-MN). A 2016 budget hearing was scheduled February 11 followed by a mark-up of pending legislative to proceed for full House consideration.
Congress recesses for President's Day week of February 16, returning February 23, resuming hearings as follows:
February 24 – Joint Senate/House hearings with Disabled Veterans Association (DAV);
February 25 – Joint Senate/House hearing with the American Legion;
March 4 – Joint Senate Senate/House hearing with Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Dr. Samuel Spagnolo, President, National Association of Veterans Administration Physicans and Dentists (NAVAPD) will be visiting with members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees during late February and March and would like to receive any suggestions/input you would like him to raise with your elected representatives. Links to resource websites:
US House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee: http://veterans.house.gov/ US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/ Library of Congress: http://www.thomas.gov