The Veterans Affairs Department will begin releasing an annual report detailing its healthcare costs following criticism from lawmakers and the Congressional Budget Office, Dr. James Tuchschmidt, its acting principal deputy undersecretary for health, announced during a hearing Wednesday.
The VA now releases only an overall healthcare spending figure without supplying more detailed information.
“You have my commitment today to work with your staff, veteran services organizations and other stakeholders and figure out what kind of data you need,” Tuchschmidt said. He provided no timeline, however.
Members of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Health said that despite Tuchschmidt's pledge, they plan to push for legislation that would force the federal department to track and release healthcare spending data.
“Given the record of the Veterans Administration in providing data to this committee, I have absolutely no confidence in your remarks,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.). “What I believe has to happen is that we have to have a mandate from the Congress of the United States to the Veterans Administration on what information it's going to have to provide.”
Others agreed. “VA's lack of transparency is echoed in the disappointing testimony—absent substance or detail—that VA provided for this morning's hearing,” said Rep. Dan Benishek, (R-Mich.), the subcommittee's chair.
“Coming on the heels of last year's astounding access and accountability failures, VA's testimony provided for this hearing is unacceptable, and I have begun examining measures that would require VA to be much more open with the American people moving forward,” Benishek said.
The impetus of the hearing was that the CBO said it struggled to get data from the federal department when it was drafting a December 2014 report to compare healthcare spending in the private sector and the VA. Such data is needed as more veterans seek care in the private sector as a result of a law signed this past summer by President Barack Obama.
That legislation gave the VA $10 billion to contract out care for vets who can't get an appointment in 30 days at VA hospitals or clinics. Also covered are veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
“Additional data, particularly if it was provided on a regular and systematic basis, could help inform policymakers about the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of (VA's) services,” Matthew Goldberg, the Congressional Budget Office deputy assistant director for national security, said during the hearing.
Specifically, the CBO suggested the VA release a report similar to the one done by the Defense Department each year about its healthcare system, known as Tricare. That contains information about operating statistics, trends among beneficiaries and their demographics, funding by appropriation category, use and costs of inpatient, outpatient, and pharmacy services, Goldberg said.
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