Pentagon & Congress

Shulkin: New health care bill could send more vets to VA for care

WASHINGTON — The controversial new health care bill passed by House Republicans Thursday Friday ​could send veterans from private insurance plans into the Veterans Affairs medical system, the department's secretary said.

"Depending upon whatever ultimately comes out of the work being done and passed (by Congress), we're going to take a look at that. But it could result in additional veterans seeking care in the VA system," David Shulkin said during an interview on The Rita Cosby Show on WABC just hours after the vote.

"We see it as our mission and responsibility to care for them if they choose VA."

The new American Health Care Act, which passed the House by a 217-213 vote with no Democratic support, is designed to replace the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Dubbed "Trumpcare," the measure has been attacked by critics for large-scale changes to insurance company coverage rules, tax credits for coverage and issues regarding access to plans.

But Republican leaders have praised it as the first step toward stabilizing the health care market and making it easier for customers to purchase plans.

Party leaders have also sparred over whether the new bill — which faces uncertain prospects in the Senate — would eliminate insurance tax credits for millions of veterans nationwide.

Shulkin, a former health care administrator who was confirmed as secretary in February, praised the health care bill as good for veterans, saying the legislation’s goal is to "make health care more affordable and accessible."

"And whatever (veterans) decide, whether they choose to get care on private exchanges or public marketplaces, the VA is there for them as a safety net."

VA has come under fire in recent years for wait times and patient access problems. About 8 million veterans are currently enrolled in department medical program. Shulkin said officials are prepared for a influx of new patients, if it happens.

"Our job is to make sure that we are here and that we have the capacity for veterans when they do seek care from us," he said.

"It’s one of our responsibilities, it’s one of the things we have learned from the past. You have to be prepared for contingencies. When it comes to our veterans, we don’t want to be caught off guard without the ability to care for them."

Shulkin and President Trump have promised major overhauls of VA operations, including expanding veterans access to private care physicians and a most customer-friendly experience with the massive bureaucracy.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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