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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate VA Committee Approves VA Choice Reform Bill, Preserves Academic Affiliations

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Sept. 29 approved the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 (S. 2193), sending the measure to the full Senate for consideration. The sole “no” vote during the mark up came from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), who later introduced the Veterans Community Care and Access Act of 2017 (S. 2184) with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). It would incorporate different veteran eligibility criteria for accessing community care among other changes.

    In line with draft House legislation and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) legislative proposal [see Washington Highlights, Oct. 27], S. 2193 retains VA’s authority for direct health care resource contracts with VA’s academic affiliates under 38 U.S. Code § 8153, often referred to as sole-source affiliate contracts.

    Also of importance to academic medicine, the bill would increase VA graduate medical education (GME) by an additional 1,500 positions over 10 years. Unlike current VA GME, residents rotating through these positions would incur a service obligation at the VA after they complete their training. The bill would also establish a GME pilot program for the VA to partner with Indian Health Service (IHS) in rural locations. Residents rotating through these programs would also incur a service obligation, but would be eligible for IHS loan repayment. Another pilot would provide tuition reimbursement and loan repayment for students and health care providers practicing in underserved VA facilities.

    The committee-approved bill has support from multiple Veterans Service Organizations. It is unlikely that the full Senate or the House VA Committee will take up their respective VA Choice reform legislation before the end of the year.