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Senators introduce new veterans’ health care bill


HONOLULU — A new bill has been introduced in Congress that aims to offer relief to veterans that have had to pay for emergency health services.

Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas co-sponsored the bill on Thursday.

The proposal would eliminate a rule that prevents veterans from being reimbursed for emergency care if they haven’t been seen in a VA center for 24 months.

“This bill eliminates red tape that prevents veterans from being reimbursed for emergency care,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono in a statement. “Veterans needing care shouldn’t be penalized because they live in rural communities or face outrageous wait times for appointments at VA medical facilities.”

The bill, called the Veterans Emergency Health Safety Net Expansion Act, would impact an estimated 144,000 veterans. It also would prevent insurance companies from denying or limiting reimbursements based on the fact that the VA is not an in-network provider.

“Veterans should not be forced to bear the burden of emergency health care costs because of the dysfunctional, bureaucratic VA system,” Moran said in a statement.

Under current law, veterans who have not been seen at a VA hospital in 24 months have to pay out of pocket if they receive emergency health care, and they are not reimbursed by the VA. This bill would shift that cost burden, which is estimated at $98 million in 2015 and $1.1 billion over 10 years, to the VA.

Hirono and Moran are members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. That committee had passed a similar measure last year, but it was part of a larger bill that ultimately failed, said Katie Niederee, spokeswoman for Moran.

The bill was introduced after a different Senate bill was approved Wednesday that makes it easier for veterans delayed in getting initial visits to receive VA-paid treatment from local doctors. Moran did not vote for that bill because he had been traveling to attend his father’s funeral in Kansas and was not able to return to Washington in time for the vote, Niederee said.

“Had I been in Washington, I would have joined my colleagues in voting in favor of this bipartisan plan to help make certain veterans receive the access to quality, timely care they deserve,” said Moran, who co-sponsored the legislation, in a statement.