VA Healthcare Reform Bill Passes Senate

Taking Care of America’s Heroes; Removing Barriers to Care

Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted in favor of the VA MISSION Act, legislation aimed to improve VA healthcare delivery, remove barriers to care, address VA personnel shortages, and expand eligibility for VA’s Caregiving Program to veterans of all generations. The bill includes reforms to improve the VA’s current healthcare delivery system and help provide veterans with more choices on where to receive care. The bill passed in a 92-5 vote.

“When it comes to our veterans, it’s so important that access to healthcare comes first. Healthcare benefit is an earned benefit on which veterans made a down payment when they agreed to fight for our country,” said Senator Murkowski. “One of the most important aspects of this bill is replacement of the Choice program with a new Community Care Program that some refer to as Choice 2.0. For a state where our veterans cynically  refer to the Choice Program as ‘No Choice at All’, it’s imperative that the VA take the failures of the Choice Program to heart and work to ensure we don’t repeat them. As a member of the VA Appropriations Subcommittee, I will do all I can to ensure the VA lives up to its promises and that our veterans receive the care they need and deserve.”

Prior to the passage of the bill, Senator Murkowski entered into a colloquy on the Senate floor with the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to establish that Alaska’s tribal health providers are eligible to deliver care under the new Community Care Program alongside Community Health Centers and federally operated healthcare facilities.

 Bill Highlights:

 Removing Barriers to Care:

  • Ends the Choice Program one year after enactment and establishes in its place a new Community Care Program, which will be the primary vehicle through which veterans can access care outside of the VA. All Alaska veterans will be eligible for the new Community Care Program because there is no full service VA hospital in Alaska.
  • Removes barriers for VA healthcare professionals to practice telemedicine.
  • Authorizes access to walk-in community clinics for enrolled veterans who have previously used VA healthcare services in the last two years.

 Addressing VA Personnel Shortages:

  • Eliminates impediments to rehiring and retention of VA healthcare professionals by providing additional resources and establishes a program to provide continuing medical education credits for community care providers on treating veterans.
  • Includes improvements to the VA loan forgiveness programs.
  • Provides incentives for medical residents and providers to work at rural, tribal and underserved VA facilities.
  • Establishes mobile medical deployment teams to provide additional care at understaffed or overwhelmed VA facilities.

 Recapitalization of the Choice Program:

  • The bill infuses $5.2 billion of new funding into the VA’s Choice Program which enables veterans to obtain care outside the VA healthcare system. The program was set to run out of money by the end of May.