Thursday, June 07, 2018

Is Trump Trying To Screw Over Veterans With VA Privatization Again?


Yesterday, according to Erica Werner at the Washington Post, Señor Trumpanzee signed "a sweeping new law... aimed at expanding veterans' access to private-sector health care. But behind the scenes his administration is fighting a bipartisan Senate effort to fund the legislation."

The bill passed the Senate on May 23, 92-5, only Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) objecting.

The legislation would open up access to private doctors for veterans who don't feel they are getting the care they expect within the VA-- with the approval of a VA health care provider. This would include situations where roadblocks to care exist, such as lengthy wait times or VA medical centers that lack services required by a particular patient.
The VA Mission Act authorizes new health care programs for veterans, but the bill does not reserve federal money to pay for those programs. A group of powerful Senate committee chairmen aims to remedy that by amending a separate measure to pay for the new $50 billion law… But the White House has engaged in a quiet effort to thwart the senators’ plan, encouraging lawmakers to vote it down and instead asking Congress to pay for the veterans programs by cutting spending elsewhere.”

But the White House has engaged in a quiet effort to thwart the senators' plan, encouraging lawmakers to vote it down and instead asking Congress to pay for the veterans programs by cutting spending elsewhere.

White House officials are circulating a memo on Capitol Hill this week that slams the senators' proposal as "anathema to responsible spending" and predicts it would lead to ballooning costs and "virtually unlimited increases" in veterans' spending on private health care.

"Without subjecting the program to any budgetary constraint, there is no incentive to continue to serve veterans with innovative, streamlined and efficient quality of care," the administration says in the memo, which was obtained by the Washington Post.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, argued that if Congress does not ratify his proposal, the alternative could be to cut $10 billion a year for five years from existing programs, including initiatives within the Veterans Affairs' Department.

"If we don't get on it we're going to have a hole of $10 billion in our approps," Shelby said Tuesday, predicting "some real trouble."

Shelby is joined in his effort by the top Appropriations Committee Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) as well as the leaders of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Their coalition reflects a renewed commitment in the Senate to completing spending bills on a bipartisan basis after years of budget dysfunction.

Their effort has run into stringent opposition from a White House still reeling from conservative backlash to the $1.3 trillion government-wide spending bill Trump signed in March. The deal broke through previous spending caps with huge increases in domestic spending Democrats demanded in exchange for military spending sought by Republicans.

Conservatives, including close Trump allies, publicly slammed the spending package and criticized Trump for signing it, and the administration has subsequently dug in against new spending and worked to claw existing spending back.

Trump frequently touts his support of veterans and members of the armed services, promising during the campaign to fix the VA and give more veterans access to private health care. Aiming to keep those promises, veterans programs are one of the few areas aside from the military where Trump has encouraged new spending.

But the White House says it won't accept new spending on the veterans' bill above the agency budget levels already negotiated with Congress, arguing enough money can be found to fund it within existing budget limits.

"We have a responsibility to provide our Veterans with the care they deserve, while also being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar," the administration said in a statement.

The VA spending fight could come to a head as soon as this week, as lawmakers prepare to take up a military construction and VA appropriations bill that the bipartisan group of chairmen want to use to fund the VA Mission Act's program.

It could be a preview of spending fights to come, with the next government shutdown deadline looming on Sept. 30, just ahead of the November midterm elections. Trump has already issued demands for more money for his border wall, something likely to meet resistance in the Senate, setting up the possibility of a shutdown showdown weeks before elections that will decide control of Congress.

The tension over how to pay for the legislation is part of a larger debate over private care for veterans. The Mission Act revamps a private-care program Congress approved in 2014 after a scandal over fudged patient wait lists for medical appointments. The new, bipartisan measure consolidates numerous private-care programs that were fragmented and inefficient and drew support from disparate veterans groups that often disagree. It also expands stipends for a popular program that pays family caregivers of veterans who served in Vietnam and later wars, for example, a priority for advocates.

The legislation's biggest costs, though, will come in new doctor's appointments outside the VA system, which now sends roughly a third of veterans to private doctors. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the increase at 640,000 veterans each year, particularly with new authorization for VA to negotiate a contract for care at private walk-in clinics.

But the shift to greater outsourcing-- arguably the top White House priority for veterans-- has been controversial. It was a key reason the president fired former VA secretary David Shulkin in March after the White House suspected that he was not pushing so-called "Choice" aggressively enough. Many Democrats, traditional veterans' service organizations and federal employee unions adamantly oppose the goal of giving veterans unfettered options to choose private doctors, arguing that such a change would starve VA's vast system of government health care, the country's largest.

Another sticking point is cost. There is no reliable estimate and little research to determine how much taxpayers pay for a private medical appointment versus one inside VA's system of 1,300 clinics and hospitals. Conservatives and liberals agree that outsourcing tends to cost more because VA care has economies of scale, but how much more is a question that will affect the spending debate between the senators and the White House.

... [Traditional veterans groups, which oppose what they are suspicious is a White House strategy to privatize VA, were adamant Tuesday that if the spending caps aren't raised, the agency could be forced to take money from other valuable veterans' benefits to ensure that veterans have access to health care.

"Some degree of community care is necessary, because no one should have to wait three months or drive 200 miles to get a flu shot," said John Hoellworth, communications director for AMVETS. "But it is not the most cost effective way to take care of our veterans."

He added, "You shouldn't have to ask Congress every year for money to take care of veterans."
Merkley pointed out to his constituents that it was tough for him to vote against the bill, noting it has lots in it that he agrees with, "most notably a significant expansion of the VA caregivers program that has successfully helped many veterans stay in their homes while enabling their family members to provide the care that they need. Our veterans deserve the very best care we can provide, and when we have a popular and effective program like this one, we should enable as many veterans as possible to use that program. Unfortunately, the positive aspects of this bill were paired with provisions that I simply could not support. First, the bill invests billions of dollars to support private health care for veterans, but doesn’t put a single dollar into filling 30,000 vacancies in the VA health system. This bias for privatization is extremely troubling. In addition, this bill fundamentally changes the funding stream for the VA system, subjecting the VA’s future funding to unnecessary uncertainty and politicization. That’s unacceptable. Veterans," he wrote, "rely on having a VA system that focuses specifically on the unique needs of veterans, and our veterans need that focus and expertise to be there for them today, tomorrow, and generations to come."

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At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not 'privatization'. The more correct characterization is 'profitization'.

Since cheney/rumsfeld profitized the non-fighting sectors of the DOD, it has only been a matter of time before the VA became profitized.

The strategy is to ratfuck veterans by underfunding and understaffing so that services are slow and/or just plain bad. Then they offer to make corporate services available to remedy the shortcomings... but really what they are doing is serving the private sector by handing the lives, health, death and futures of vets over to those vultures for fun and profit.

And if you think the democraps will ever do anything to resist... just ask yourself what ACA did (hint: exactly what this is doing) and ask yourself what they did to thwart cheney/Rumsfeld 17 years ago (hint: diddly shit).

How many soldiers were electrocuted in the green zone taking showers built by the lowest bidder among corporate bidders? just to give you an idea about profit being more important than the lives of cannon fodder.

At 5:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a question? When has Trump NOT screwed someone?

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

trump would screw veterans just for the fun of it. The corporate profit motive part has to have been a suggestion made by lobbyists (via their puppets in congress). trump could never have come up with this on his own.

Don't remember which "progressive" democrap candidate I heard posit this several months ago... but it was someone DWT loves. His lament was that since the VA can't handle the workload, we MUST, out of "compassion", allow the vets to have access to the corporate sector to shop for his/her services. To the average American idiot, I'm sure that sounded reasonable.

Now it's part of the Nazis' and/or trump's platform for '18 or '20?

Did the democrap get it from a Nazi or did the Nazis get it from the democrap? Since both parties are corporate whores, does it matter?


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