Lawmakers Slam Cost Estimate for Fixing VA as 'Ludicrous'

Wednesday, 25 Jun 2014 11:20 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Lawmakers are slamming a Congressional Budget Office report that says it could cost $35 billion to $50 billion a year to revamp the troubled Veterans Affairs Department.

The cost figures are "grotesquely out of line," said South Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, according to The Hill, and asked colleagues if they thought report was "representative of anything sane."

According to the CBO report released, a Senate bill on the VA passed earlier this month would cost at least $35 billion and up to $50 billion per year to implement, while a similar bill adopted by the House would cost $44 billion.

Much of the additional costs incurred "would be for care financed by other payers, including Medicare; a portion of those costs would thus be offset by savings to the Medicare program," said the report, which was released earlier this month. "All told, CBO expects that veterans would ultimately seek additional care that would cost the federal government about $50 billion a year, on net."

"This is ludicrous," Burr said Tuesday at a joint conference committee to discuss compromise on the Senate bill, The Washington Times reported. "It is impossible for us to even start an intelligent conversation on what we put in legislation when we have numbers that are so grotesquely out of line.”

Both the House and Senate bills allow an acting VA secretary to fire senior executives, with the Senate version including the ability for dismissed employees to appeal their firing. They also eliminate manager bonuses and incentives, which lawmakers said led the officials to manipulate lists of patient waiting times.

Much of the cost would come from the Senate's call to build or lease 26 new VA facilities nationwide and from a two-year program that would allow veterans to visit doctors outside the VA system if they live more than 40 miles from a government clinic.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, says his chamber's bill would cost $2 billion to implement, far less than the CBO estimates, and that emergency funds would finance the legislation, according to The Hill.

Like Burr, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who worked on the Senate bill with Sanders, complained the CBO's estimate is "wildly inaccurate," according to The Hill.

But Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said the VA doesn't have a problem with lack of funding, but instead lacks accountability, The Hill reported.

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