A bill clearing the way for veterans to have better access to healthcare cleared Congress with huge bipartisan support. The Senate voted 92 to 5 to approve the bill previously passed by the House.
The Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act allows the Veterans Affairs Administration to partner with community care providers and other care providers. The bill also incorporates private sector assistance for veterans healthcare.
The bill is being hailed as a huge win for those veterans who have sacrificed so much for their country, though some argue it moves the veteran healthcare system towards privatization.
Here’s more on the measure, per Healthcare Dive:
The act allocates $5.2 billion toward the Choice program, originally created through the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 in response to the VA’s wait time scandal. The program has allowed veterans the option of receiving care from the private sector if they live more than 40 miles driving distance from a VA facility or if they have to wait more than 30 days to get an appointment.
Lawmakers have been debating the program’s potential for giving the private sector more control over veterans’ healthcare, but the MISSION Act is largely seen as a compromise.
“The VA MISSION Act removes those arbitrary time and distance requirements that limit eligibility for outside care,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “It replaces those one-size-fits-all policies with a conversation between veterans and their own doctors about what works best.”
Proponents of the bill argue the bill does not go far enough in helping veterans from more rural areas where healthcare options are typically more limited:
“What we’re seeing in rural America is a disproportionate number of veterans,” Maggie Elehwany, vice president of government affairs at the National Rural Health Association, told Healthcare Dive earlier this year. As many as 25% of veterans, she said, live in rural America. They also tend to be older and experience poverty at a higher rate than urban and suburban veterans.
“We need to get rural veterans some kind of ability to better access care in rural areas. They should have the choice to be able to see their local rural provider,” Elehwany said. “We had long fought for that, and for a long time it seemed like the VA was very resistant to that notion.”
President Trump, who recently nominated acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to head the administration, is expected to immediately sign the measure into law.
The president also recently praised the National Football League for announcing they would be penalizing players and teams for protesting the playing of the National Anthem, acts seen disrespectful of veterans and the American flag.
“I think that’s good. I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still, I think it’s good,” the president said per Politico. “You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. And the NFL owners did the right thing, if that’s what they’ve done.”
Here’s more, from Fox News:
The NFL adopted a policy that would fine teams and league personnel who do not “stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” the league announced Wednesday.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that the policy was approved “in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country.”
The policy read: “the 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice.”