Late Breaking News
Bill Calls for Advance Funding of VA Healthcare
- Categorized in: March 2009 Issue
WASHINGTON—To avoid the funding delays that plague the federal government yearly, the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system should have its funding secured a year in advance, according to a bill reintroduced by legislators last month.
The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 (H.R. 1016)—the twin of a bill that was not voted on during the last Congress—was submitted last month by a bipartisan group of senators and House legislators. It is considered by some to be a more palatable funding change to VA than the perennial demand by Democrats and most veterans service organizations for mandatory funding. Currently, only VA’s beneﬁts budget is calculated using a formula, while its healthcare budget is discretionary and is ultimately up to the President and legislators to determine. One of the concerns legislators have had with creating a mandatory funding formula for VA healthcare is the requirement to offset new mandatory spending with cuts elsewhere. Congress created the requirement—known as PAYGO—several budget cycles ago demanding that new proposals must either be budget neutral or offset with savings derived from existing funds.
H.R. 1016 would authorize Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each ﬁscal year. Unlike proposals to convert VA healthcare to a mandatory funding program, an advance appropriation would not create PAYGO concerns, since VA healthcare funding would remain discretionary. The bill’s proponents also contend that an advance appropriation would provide VA with up to a year in which to plan how to deliver the most efﬁcient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.
“I appreciate the sentiments of Secretary Shinseki to approve and implement future VA budgets on time, but we must also recognize the various obstacles that frequently prevent this from happening,” said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chair of the House VA Committee. “The [bill] is a way to explore a new manner in which to fund the VA. We need to consider a historic new approach to guarantee that our veterans have access to comprehensive, quality healthcare that they deserve and have earned. There is no greater priority facing our nation than providing healthcare to our veterans and we must be willing to pay the cost, whatever that cost may be. For too many years, VA has had to make do with insufﬁcient budgets resulting in restricted access for many veterans. When funding is short, it is our veterans who pay the price.”
The new legislation would also task the Government Accountability Ofﬁce with studying and reporting to Congress for the next three years on VA’s budget forecasting model and estimates. Legislators hope that by shedding light on VA’s internal budget process, Congress will have a much greater ability and incentive to develop appropriation bills that provide sufﬁcient funding to meet the best estimate of anticipated demand for VA healthcare services in future years.