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Roe: This effort is in no way, shape, or form intended to create a pipeline to privatize the VA healthcare system

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Washington, October 24, 2017 | comments

Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), held a legislative hearing on nine bills, including legislation related to VA's community care programs. 

The Committee will come to order. 

Welcome and thank you all for joining us for today’s Full Committee legislative hearing.

Today, we will be discussing several pieces of important legislation including:

- draft legislation that I have been working on to establish a permanent, improved Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care in the community program; 

- draft legislation that Ranking Member Walz has been working on to address VA’s agreements with State Veteran Homes, graduate medical education residency positions, community care obligations, and telemedicine licensing issues; and,

- a legislative proposal Secretary Shulkin has been working on, the Veteran Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences - or, CARE - Act.

We will also consider legislation this morning that would affect how veterans are able to access life-saving transplant and mental health care and how VA is able to use telemedicine to treat veterans in rural areas.

Needless to say, we have a very full docket this morning.

I am grateful to Ranking Member Walz, to Secretary Shulkin, and to all of the sponsors of the bills on today’s agenda for being here this morning and for their hard work on behalf of our veterans.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of my colleagues and of the Secretary on their various proposals and - for brevity’s sake - will limit my comments to my draft bill addressing community care reform.

Let’s get right into it.

Earlier this month, the Committee hosted a roundtable discussion with VA and numerous veterans service organizations (VSOs) to discuss community care reform.

At that roundtable, we had a robust discussion surrounding an earlier version of my community care reform bill.

I am immensely grateful to all of the VSOs, Members, and other roundtable participants for their support of the earlier draft, their thoughtful suggestions for how it could be improved, and their willingness to meet with me and smy staff over the last few weeks to discuss these issues and my language in-depth.

It’s important to note that the written testimony that was submitted for today’s hearing is based on an earlier draft of the bill that is before us today.

On Friday, a revised version of the bill was circulated that incorporates the feedback that I have received over the last few weeks from VSOs, Members, VA, and other stakeholders.

Once again, I want to thank all of those, who agreed to sit down with me and my staff, for being so generous with their time and for their commitment to ensuring that all viewpoints and concerns are heard and considered in the Committee’s final work product.

I have made every effort - every step of the way - to be transparent and keep all stakeholders informed about our work and intentions with regard to this bill.

To that end, I believe it is important to state yet again that this effort is in no way, shape, or form intended to create a pipeline to privatize the VA healthcare system.

I want to be completely clear about that.

Everyone who participated in the roundtable earlier this month and contributed to the development of this legislation should be completely clear on that.

Everyone listening today should also be completely clear on that.

Supplemental care, sourced from within the community, has been a part of the VA health care system since the 1940’s and serves to expand VA’s reach and strengthen and support the care that VA provides.

Rhetoric aside - strengthening and supporting VA is what this conversation is about.

It should go without saying that VA cannot be everywhere, providing everything, to every veteran.

Expecting VA to perform like that sets VA up to fail.

That is why my draft bill preserves VA’s role as the central coordinator of care for enrolled veteran patients.

In addition to consolidating VA’s menu of existing community care programs into one cohesive program, my bill would create a seamless, integrated VA system of care that incorporates VA providers and VA medical facilities where and when they are available to provide the care a veteran seeks and a network of VA providers in the community who can step in when needed.

Under my draft bill, VA generally retains the right of first refusal - meaning that if VA medical facility can reasonably provide a needed service to a veteran, that care will be provided in that facility.

But when VA can’t do that, my bill would ensure that veterans aren’t left out to dry.

My bill would also modernize VA’s medical claims processing system to ensure that community providers can expect to be paid on time, every time, for the care they provide to veterans on VA’s behalf.

My bill would further require VA to conduct periodic capacity and market assessments to identify how gaps in care can be addressed through improvements to both internal and external capacity, standardize the rates VA pays to community providers, and authorize VA to enter into provider agreements for needed care when contracts are not available or achievable.

That said, my bill remains a work in progress and we still have work to do together.

For example, we still need to figure out how to pay for all these improvements - which will be no easy or pleasant feat for any of us, I imagine.

I am committed to remaining as transparent and open as possible moving forward and I want everyone here to know that the doors of this Committee are open to anyone who is honestly interested in working with us to resolve this issue once and for all before the year runs out and the Choice Fund once again runs dry.

With that, I look forward to hearing what all of our witnesses have to say this morning and thank them all for being here. 

I will now yield to Ranking Member Walz for any opening statement that he might have. 

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