Studies Show That VA Health Care is Superior to That of the Private Sector - President's Budget Puts That Care in Jeopardy

Mr. President, over the past 10 years, VA has made tremendous strides in its delivery of health care. In fact, VA's quality of care currently surpasses that of the private sector, according to several notable studies.

Though VA has been able to provide high-quality care despite less than generous budgets, we cannot count on that holding true. Indeed, if the Administration's proposed cuts for VA care come to fruition, VA will no doubt begin to lose its footing. The President's budget offers a very modest increase for VA care ? one that does not even cover medical inflation.

Veterans groups are united in saying that the proposed budget is not sufficient. The Disabled American Veterans has called the Administration's budget, ?one of the most tight-fisted, miserly budgets in recent memory.? The Paralyzed Veterans of America says that ?this budget shortchanges America's sick and disabled veterans.?

The President's budget calls on VA to save some $600 million by squeezing efficiencies out of the system. I have been to VA hospitals and clinics, and I can tell my colleagues that $600 million worth of efficiencies are not possible without cutting staff and services, the very services that have made VA care excellent.

As many of my colleagues know, VA already obtains some of the best prices on pharmaceuticals. VA's costs are far below retail prices ? in some cases 55 percent of average prices. It is unfortunate that the Administration does not believe that Medicare's costs would be lowered if the government could negotiate with drugmakers. VA has proven that it works. My point is, Mr. President, that there really aren't any more efficiencies to be gleaned from VA drug purchasing.

Mr. President, I will be working to increase the VA health care budget ? to move from the realm of miserly to what is truly needed to care for all veterans. In the meantime, we should focus now on the tremendous advances VA has made and do our best to maintain VA care at the highest levels.

One of these studies, done by RAND Corporation, found that VA outpaces private health care systems in delivering care to patients. Among its findings, RAND found that VA patients were more likely to receive recommended health services than those in a national sample of patients using a private provider. It also concluded that VA patients received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.

Additionally, an article in Washington Monthly titled ?The Best Care Anywhere? explained at length how, in just 10 years, VA hospitals went from less than excellent care to the pinnacle of quality health care. Fostering the change is the focus on new technology to reduce medical errors. Such computer systems allow clinicians to electronically pull up all medical records for any patient. Doctors are able to enter their orders into a computer system that immediately checks that order against the patient's records. If the software then detects a dangerous combination of medicines or a patient's allergy to the newly prescribed drug, a red flag goes up on screen. The technology also reminds doctors to prescribe appropriate care for veterans after they have been discharged from the hospital, and it keeps track of which patients are due for follow-up services.

VA has made several other important strides in recent years, steps that have been crucial to VA's ascent to the top of the medical care field. Until the mid-1990s, VA was considered by most to be in crisis. Starting in 1996, however, Congress forced VA to focus on primary care and outpatient services. This change, known as eligibility reform, led to improvement in care at VA. I am proud that we made those changes. Veterans are coming to VA like never before. Rather than closing the doors ? as the President is proposing ? let us welcome all veterans into the system.

As Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I will work to ensure that VA continues to be a leader in health care by fighting for additional funding. We must all work to guarantee that all of our Nation's veterans get the care they so greatly deserve. Thank you, Mr. President.