Bipartisan Bill to Improve Transparency at VA Gains Momentum in U.S. Senate

Aug 05, 2021 at 12:00 am by Staff

U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mark Kelly (D- Ariz.) along with Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) applauded the progress made on their bipartisan VA Quality Health Care Accountability and Transparency Act as it was passed by the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee with unanimous support. The legislation was introduced by the group in April to improve the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shares its performance metrics with veterans, their caregivers, and the public.

"The growing veteran community that calls Tennessee home deserves transparency from the Department of Veteran Affairs," said Senator Blackburn. "The VA Quality Health Care Accountability and Transparency Act will require the VA to work with veterans, veterans service organizations, and caregivers of veterans to improve the Access to Care website. This is a good step forward, but more work needs to be done to ensure our heroes have access to useable health care data."

"Today's bipartisan vote in the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee brings us one step closer to improving transparency and accountability so that the failures of the past won't be repeated," said Senator Mark Kelly, a veteran and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The reforms our bipartisan bill will implement are critical to delivering quality care for veterans in Arizona, and I will continue working to get this legislation passed through the Senate."

"Veterans, their family members, and the American people should always have access to reliable information about how well the VA is performing," said Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Marine combat veteran and member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "I am glad to see progress on this legislation that will increase transparency and accountability at the VA, enable veterans to make informed decisions about their health, and improve the quality of care the VA provides. Those who have bravely defended our nation deserve nothing less."

"I was proud to introduce the VA Quality Health Care Accountability and Transparency Act alongside Rep. Gallego and our colleagues in the Senate, and was pleased to see our bill pass out of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs with bipartisan support," said Congressman Dave Joyce. "Taking care of the brave men and women who have defended our country is the ultimate bipartisan cause. I look forward to getting this bill across the finish line so that we can ensure our veterans have the information they need to make informed decisions about their health."

The bill was first introduced in the 116th Congress in response to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report which found that the VA was failing to disclose wait time, patient safety, and quality of care information in an accessible and easy-to-use manner.

The bill would require the VA to work with veteran service organizations (VSOs), veterans, and caregivers to improve display of staffing and vacancy information, patient wait times, and patient safety and quality of care measures and outcomes in a way that is accessible and easy to use for veterans. It would also require the VA to annually audit the data that it releases to the public to ensure that it is accurate and complete.

And in other VA News ...

AMA: VA Misfires on Standards Aimed at Oversight of Health Care Professionals

The American Medical Association (AMA) and 102 other organizations are asking the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to jettison the development of standards that threaten to undermine confidence in the health care provided to our nation's veterans by upending state-based licensure and oversight of health care professionals.

"These back-of-the-envelope standards will have the unintended consequence of reducing the quality of health care for veterans, many of whom suffer from complex symptoms that require expertise from trained medical professionals," said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D. "These new standards of practice are unlikely to encompass the complexity of modern medicine. They will supersede longstanding state regulations and laws and create confusion. This is a solution in search of a problem."

Initiated by the Trump Administration through an interim final rule, the standards could lead to patient safety issues and lower quality of veteran care by allowing health care providers to practice above their license and perform procedures for which they are not properly trained. The proposal would result in a national standard of practice for 48 categories of health professionals. The VA standards for each category will be independent of one another rather than emphasizing the role of each health care professional in a team-based approach. The VA is developing the standards without transparency and adequate stakeholder input.

More importantly, these new federal standards will supersede existing state laws. Such a move would prevent state boards from properly supervising the practitioners they license, making it all but impossible to discipline health care professionals who deliver inadequate or substandard care.

Health care professionals working for the VA would be exempt from state laws that are the result of years of legislative and stakeholder involvement.

"Had we been asked, we would have told the VA to pause and consider the breadth of what it is doing. This is a monumental undertaking, not one to rush through between administrations," said Harmon, a former major general in the Air Force. "Physicians want to deliver superior care to veterans. These standards are likely to compromise care. That isn't what the VA intends, but that's the probable result."

The AMA has long supported improved access for veterans, including changes that promoted community-based care. The AMA backed the Community Care Program that allows veterans to choose their preferred community provider or a VA staff member.