House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Phil Roe, MD, (R-Tenn.) May 3 introduced new legislation to revise the existing Veterans Choice Program. The Department of Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (VA MISSION Act, H.R. 5674) is modified from the previously introduced VA Care in the Community Act (H.R. 4242), which the committee approved last December [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 22, 2017]. According to the press release, the bill reflects a bipartisan, bicameral agreement reached last month by lawmakers.
The new bill includes provisions related to graduate medical education (GME) and improving recruitment of health care professionals to VA medical centers. These changes would:
- Add 50 annual scholarships for physicians and dentists for the continuation of the provider shortage;
- Increase the maximum amount of debt that may be reduced under the Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) to $200,000 over five years and $40,000 annually;
- Establish a new medical school loan repayment program for residents training in specialty areas deemed to be experiencing a shortage, up to a maximum of $160,000 in loan repayment;
- Establish a pilot program to support two veterans at the Teague-Cranston Schools and four historically black medical schools; and
- Establish a pilot program for new medical residency programs at covered facilities, including Indian Health Service facilities, federally-qualified health centers, and DOD facilities.
The full committee is scheduled to mark up this legislation May 8, setting it up for final passage before the Memorial Day congressional recess.
Simultaneously, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees continue to work on the fiscal year (FY) 2019 VA spending bills. The Friends of VA Health Care and Medical Research (FOVA) April 30 provided public witness testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. The testimony highlighted a FY 2019 budget recommendation of $823 million for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program. The AAMC is a member of the FOVA executive committee.