A major overhaul of veteran’s health care was passed by the House. This measure will expand their access to private sector care on the government’s dime and bring the Veterans’ Affair Department through a process that will close some of its federally run facilities. The bill passed with overwhelming support, with a vote of 347-70.
The Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act received widespread support and will now head to the Senate, where it already has bipartisan support.
The White House has also officially backed this bill saying it would “strengthen the VA’s ability to deliver timely, high-quality healthcare in its own facilities while ensuring seamless integration with community care providers”.
The MISSION Act would provide veterans with access to private sector care when:
- The services they are seeking are not offered at VA,
- There is no full-service medical facility in their state,
- They previously were eligible for outside care under the Veterans Choice Program, or
- VA can’t meet its own standards of care in providing care to an individual veteran.
It will also allow a veteran and doctor to mutually agree that private care was in the patient’s “best medical interest”. The VA provider would first have to assess the distance the veteran must travel to receive care from the departments’ network of more than 1,200 medical facilities, the nature of the service required, timeliness of available appointments, and other “excessive burdens to care”.
One controversial part of the bill would put VA through a process like Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It would require the VA Secretary to assess the departments current capacity to provide healthcare in each of its networks and ultimately recommend facilities to close, realign, or modernize. The secretary would pass along those suggestions to a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed commission. The panel would then submit its recommendations to the president who would have to approve the plan in full, in part, or reject it. Congress would then have 45 days to vote down the plan or it would automatically go into effect.
While many lawmakers and groups support this bill, the American Federation of Government Employees, representing 230,000 VA employees, wants Congress to reject the measure, saying it would endanger the department by shifting resources toward the private sector.