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Senate quickly passes VA access bill, could cost $50b a year

Senators voted overwhelmingly to pass a measure meant to fix systematic problems within the VA health care system, but could cost upwards of an additional $50 billion each year.
By Gabrielle Levy   |   June 11, 2014 at 6:52 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 11 (UPI) -- The Senate pushed through a bipartisan bill Wednesday that will allow veterans to seek care outside the VA health system just days after hammering out a compromise from opposing bills.

Senators voted 93-3 to pass the compromise bill authored by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and John McCain, R-Ariz., sending it to the House, which has passed two similar bills that contain much of the same content as the Senate legislation.

Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., all voted no. Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Jeff Merkely, D-Ore., and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, did not vote.

The bill authorizes a two-year trial program that will allow veterans to seek private care if they are unable to get the necessary VA care within a reasonable time frame, and will provide emergency funds to VA doctors, nurses and facilities.

Before voting for final passage, the Senate overcame a budget point of order against the bill, raised by Sessions because the measure is essentially a blank check. The Congressional Budget Office circulated a letter after the vote that said the "magnitude of those budgetary effects is highly uncertain," thanks to a "significant number of veterans [that] could receive new and expanded health care benefits."

The CBO estimated that veterans could seek an additional $50 billion per year under the allowances of the bill.

But Sanders said the cost was justified in the country's obligation to its servicemen and women.

"Our job is to make certain that every veteran in the country gets quality health care in a timely manner," he said in a statement following the vote. "At a time when 2 million more veterans have come into the VA in the last four years, we must ensure that there are enough doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to meet the needs of veterans in every facility in the country."

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