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Obama should act immediately on veterans' healthcare, AMA delegates agree


By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: June 10, 2014 - 3:45 pm ET
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President Barack Obama should take immediate action to allow veterans to seek care outside of the Veterans Affairs Department's healthcare system, the American Medical Association House of Delegates resolved Tuesday. It also recommended that state and local medical societies and local VA offices create registries of doctors willing to provide immediate veteran care.

A resolution calling on the president to solve access problems had been introduced by the Florida and Texas delegations. But, after debating the measure Sunday, the House of Delegates committee on federal legislation rewrote it with substitute calls to “encourage all physicians to participate, when needed, in the healthcare of veterans” and “support providing full health benefits” to eligible veterans to access care outside the VA system.

The Florida and Texas delegations were joined by doctors in California and New York in offering a third version of the resolution which delegates approved late Tuesday morning. It calls on the president to take immediate action to provide “entitled care” to eligible veterans outside the VA System until the VA can find a solution to its long waiting list problem.

The measure was approved by an overwhelming voice vote. But an amendment recommending that local registries be created was approved by the slimmest of margins. Since a voice vote was inconclusive, another vote was taken electronically and the registry recommendation was approved by a 234-231 vote (50.3% to 49.7%).

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The measure was introduced by Dr. Asa Lockhart, an anesthesiologist from Tyler, Texas. Lockhart acknowledged that Congress is working on the issue, but he said that veterans can't wait. He added that the problems are complex and there is no quick fix, but the president can take immediate action to help. The U.S. House Tuesday passed a resolution designed to make it easier for vets to seek care from their local providers.

“Let's use our great relationship with the president,” said Dr. David McKalip, a St. Petersburg, Fla., neurosurgeon. He added later that, “We're not going to micromanage the president,” but said Obama was the only person who could most quickly solve veterans' healthcare access issue.

Another delegate called the VA scandal a “sentinel event” for pay-for-performance programs and wanted to add an amendment calling for the reassessment of federal pay-for-performance initiatives. The motion was voted down.

Dr. Richard Evans, a surgeon from Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, said the issue of veteran wait times was being politicized.

“I am a veteran and I see veterans in my practice on a daily basis and I think everyone in this room is supportive of veteran care,” Evans said. “I see no reason for this resolution and I oppose it.”

Some physicians noted that many veterans already receive care outside the VA system, but it was argued that they can only receive care for acute problems and then vets are left to “languish” once these issues are stabilized.

After the vote, McKalip denied the action was political.

“This is about providing a relief valve until the VA can fix its problems,” he said in an interview.

McKalip said the president can redirect funds for nonhealthcare uses toward the VA fee-basis program, which provides veterans access to care outside the VA system. VA hospitals are notorious for closing their operating rooms by midafternoon, he contended, and suggested that keeping them open longer would reduce wait times.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks


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