News

Lawmakers slam veterans health bill costs

Lawmakers slam veterans health bill costs

VETERANS HEALTH CARE:House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) talks to reporters after a news conference to call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, on Capitol Hill in Washington May 29. Photo: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Cost estimates of up to $50 billion a year for a veterans emergency medical care bill drew sharp criticism on Tuesday from lawmakers who said they were grossly inflated and would complicate negotiations over final details of the legislation.

The measure, with slightly differing versions passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, would allow veterans a two-year period to seek private care at the Department of Veteran Affairs’ expense if forced to endure long waits at the agency’s facilities or if they live more than 40 miles away.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said Republicans on a negotiating panel want to find savings to offset the costs of the measure, but they believe the Congressional Budget Office estimates are unrealistic.

The non-partisan CBO issued a preliminary estimate that these provisions would cost the Department of Veterans Affairs $35 billion through 2016, and if left in place therafter would about $50 billion a year.

A CBO spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment on the estimate. The agency had previously said the bill’s budgetary effects were “highly uncertain” because of difficulty in predicting behavioral changes among veterans due to increased access to private care.

With fresh government reports detailing deeper problems with VA mismanagement this week, lawmakers want to pass a final version of the VA legislation as quickly as possible. But disputes over money could slow things down.

Several lawmakers at an initial meeting of House and Senate negotiators said the estimate improperly assumed that about 8 million eligible veterans not yet enrolled in the system would seek VA care, nearly doubling its patient population.

“Is the CBO product that they’ve produced reflective of anything sane?” asked Senator Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

“This is ludicrous. This is impossible for us even to start an intelligent discussion on what we put in legislation when we’ve got numbers that are just so grossly out of line,” he said.

Miller said he would press CBO for a “realistic” cost estimate and anticipates a new one that is significantly lower.

“We want to try to find the offsets necessary to pay for the legislation. That’s not going to be an easy task, but it’s one we’re committed to looking fully at over the next several days,” Miller told reporters.

Finding more than $35 billion in budget savings would be a difficult task at any time, but could especially be problematic this summer, as lawmakers are already scrounging for savings to fund highway projects.

Miller declined to estimate a timeframe for a funding deal, but said he hoped to reach consensus on broad parameters of the measure before Congress leaves for a July 4 break on Friday. The measure also provides the VA with greater authority to fire poor performing employees.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Diane Craft)

Recent Headlines

in Sports

Kentucky remains undefeated after beating Notre Dame & moves on to Final Four

Fresh
Kentucky's Trey Lyles, left, and Karl-Anthony Towns, right, listen to Willie Cauley-Stein during the team's news conference at the NCAA men's basketball tournament regional, Friday, March 27, 2015, in Cleveland. Kentucky plays Notre Dame in the final Saturday, hoping to extend their unbeaten streak and reach the Final Four.

Andrew Harrison hit two free throws with six seconds left as the Wildcats survived a 68-66 win over third seed Notre Dame.

in Local Sports

10-man FC Dallas holds off the Sounders

Fresh
FC Dallas's Michel celebrates as he jogs to midfield after scoring on a penalty kick against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second half of an MLS playoff soccer match, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, in Frisco, Texas. FC Dallas won 2-1.

FC Dallas played with 10 men for the majority of the night, the Seattle Sounders failed to capitalize and the match ended in a scoreless draw Saturday night.

in Sports

Wisconsin heads to Final Four after win over Arizona

Wisconsin Badgers Head Coach Bo Ryan works with the team during the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Badgers (35-3) denied the Wildcats (34-4) a Final Four berth for the second straight year, having beaten them by one point in overtime in Anaheim a year ago when their seeds were reversed.

in Local Sports

Zunino homers twice, but Giants rally to edge Mariners 9-8

Updated
Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is seen before a spring exhibition baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Peoria, Ariz.

The San Francisco Giants rallied from a four-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning with minor leaguers Saturday in a 9-8 split-squad victory.

in Sports

AP sources: Texas fires coach Barnes after 17 years

The NCAA logo is on the court as work continues at The Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, March 18, 2015, for the NCAA college basketball second and third round game. Second round games start on Thursday.

Texas has fired coach Rick Barnes after 17 seasons, people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.