Obama Drops Controversial Third-Party Billing Proposal for Veterans
Updated 6:57 p.m.
By Philip Rucker
President Obama today abandoned a proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for treatment of combat-related injuries after the measure prompted an outcry from veterans service organizations and members of Congress.
The proposal would have authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to charge private companies for treating injuries and other medical conditions related to military service, such as amputations, post-traumatic stress disorder and other battle wounds. The measure was intended to save the VA about $530 million a year, but the administration's pursuit of third-party billing sparked resistance from leaders of powerful veterans groups, who met earlier this week with Obama.
In a statement released this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president has "instructed that its consideration be dropped."
"In considering the third party billing issue, the administration was seeking to maximize the resources available for veterans," Gibbs said. "However, the president listened to concerns raised by the [veterans service organizations] that this might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families' ability to access health care."
Veterans groups said the policy would jeopardize the insurance benefits of veterans and their families and would be an abrogation of the government's responsibility to care for those wounded in war.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Veterans' Affairs and Budget committees who warned VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki last week that Obama's third-party billing proposal would be "dead on arrival," issued a statement saying the president "did the right thing in dropping this proposal.
"Injured veterans and their families have already paid enough of a price, they shouldn't have to worry about the tab for service-related care," Murray said.
Gibbs said Obama wants to "continue a constructive partnership" with veterans groups and highlighted the administration's commitment to veterans. In his budget blueprint, Obama proposes the largest increase in the VA's budget in 30 years.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was critical of the proposal and issued a statement today saying that the administration is "upholding our sacred trust with America's veterans. Veterans of all generations are celebrating this decision."
Posted at 6:00 PM ET on Mar 18, 2009
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