VA Choice Funding Plan Loses in House

Washington Report

(July 25, 2017) A program that allows qualified veterans to seek health care from private providers could run out of money next month after the House failed to approve a funding plan Monday.

Lawmakers rejected a plan to shift $2 billion from other Department of Veterans Affairs programs to fund the Choice Program for six months. Congress created the Choice program in 2014 after scandals about long wait times at the VA. Under the program, veterans who wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility can seek care from a private provider and bill the VA.

VA Secretary David Shulkin told Congress that the program could run out of money by mid-August, prompting the vote Monday to shift VA funds.

However, some veterans and veteran advocates see the Republican method to fund Choice as a step toward privatization of veteran health care, which they oppose.

Democrats also do not like using funds approved for other programs and think Choice should have its own funding.

“The fact that Republican leadership is requiring offsets for direct patient care for veterans is troubling,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, said fears of privatization are overstated. He said lawmakers cannot allow the program to run out of money.

Walz said in a statement that the Senate has a plan that is likely to pass in both chambers and urged patience.

“I think we’re just a bit early. We need another day,” he said.

The House will leave for a month-long recess at the end of the week.