Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, today I urge our colleagues to pass legislation that would rightfully correct a deficiency in the law governing emergency health care treatment for veterans.
H.R. 1377, which passed the House in March of this year, would expand veteran eligibility for reimbursement for emergency treatment furnished in a non-Department facility. H.R. 1377 is a companion bill to provisions contained in S. 1963, the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009, which passed the Senate just a few weeks ago.
Under current law, originally enacted on November 30, 1999, a veteran who is enrolled in VA's health care system can be reimbursed for emergency treatment received at a non-VA hospital. However, the statute only permits such VA reimbursement if the veteran has no other outside health insurance, no matter how limited that other coverage might be. This means that a veteran who has any insurance is not entitled to reimbursement from VA for emergency medical treatment received at a non-VA facility. This holds true even if the veteran's insurance policy does not cover the full amount owed.
In discussing the importance of this legislation, I mention one particular story that came to the committee's attention. A disabled Vietnam veteran from Illinois was in a serious motorcycle accident which led to emergency medical bills totaling over $100,000. This veteran had state mandated motorcycle insurance, but it only covered $10,000 in expenses. Because under current law veterans are personally responsible for any difference between whatever coverage they have and the costs of their emergency care, VA was prohibited from paying for this veteran's care.
H.R. 1377 would modify current law so that a veteran who has outside insurance would be eligible for reimbursement in the event that the outside insurance does not cover the full amount of the emergency care. VA would be authorized to cover the difference between the amount the veteran's insurance will pay and the total cost of care. In essence, VA would become the payer of last resort in such cases. This would keep the veteran from being burdened by medical fees with no insurance with which to pay them. Additionally, this bill would also allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to retroactively apply this law to emergency treatment received between the effective date of the current law and the date of enactment of the legislation, thereby ensuring assistance to as many veterans as possible.
Mr. President, I urge passage of H.R. 1377 to rightfully fill this hole in veterans' health care.
December 18, 2009