House passes bill to address VA issues; Senate releases separate bill

In response to growing concerns regarding wait times experienced by veterans seeking health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the House of Representatives today voted 421-0 (with 11 members not voting) to approve the Veterans Access to Care Act (H.R. 4810). Among other provisions, the bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer non-VA care at the department's expense to any enrolled veteran who cannot get an appointment within VA wait-time goals or who lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility. Any care provided by a non-department facility not under an existing VA contract would be reimbursed at the rate set by the VA, Tricare or Medicare, whichever is greatest. The access portions of the bill would sunset two years after enactment. The Senate is expected to vote later this week on a separate bill to address the issue.


Urge Your Legislators to Support Specific Provisions in VA Bill

House and Senate negotiators will meet soon to begin finalizing details of critical legislation to help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expand care options for veterans. For decades, the VA has been there in times of need. Now, the hospital field stands ready to offer the VA our assistance once we know the scope of what's needed, requested and enabled. The AHA has been in touch with the VA and will continue to offer our support.

Both the Senate-passed bill (H.R. 3230) and House-passed bill (H.R. 4810) would offer care from a civilian health care provider at the department's expense to any veteran enrolled in the VA health system who cannot get an appointment within the department's current wait-time goal (14 days), or who lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility. However, there are several crucial details to be finalized.

It is important that the final bill:

Maintain the ability of hospitals to contract directly with the VA rather than require hospitals to go through a contractor.
Set adequate payment rates for non-VA providers. Under the Senate bill, payment for care provided by a non-VA facility could not exceed Medicare rates; the House bill would pay non-VA providers who are not under an existing VA contract at the rate set by the VA, Tricare or Medicare, whichever is greatest. We support the House language.
Include language to establish and implement a system for prompt payment of claims from non-VA providers. There is currently no significant prompt pay language in either bill.
Please contact your legislators, especially if they are conferees, and urge them to support these principles in the final legislation. Conferees are listed below:

House Republicans                          Senate Democrats

Jeff Miller (R-FL)                                    Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Doug Lamborn (R-CO)                         John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV)

Phil Roe (R-TN)                                    Patty Murray (D-WA)

Bill Flores (R-TX)                                 Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Dan Benishek (R-MI)                           Jon Tester (D-MT)

Mike Coffman (R-CO)                          Mark Begich (D-AK)

Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)                        Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Jackie Walorski (R-IN)                          Mazie Hirono (D-HI)


House Democrats                            Senate Republicans

Mike Michaud (D-ME)                           Richard Burr (R-NC)

Corrine Brown (D-FL)                          Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

Mark Takano (D-CA)                            Mike Johanns (R-NE)

Julia Brownley (D-CA)                          John McCain (R-AZ)

Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)                          Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Tim Walz (D-MN)                                Tom Coburn (R-OK)

The AHA applauds the Congress for the speed with which it has moved to address this issue and allow veterans to more easily secure care from civilian providers. We urge Congress to move expeditiously to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills and look forward to working with our VA colleagues, Congress and the Administration to ensure veterans receive the care they need when they need it.