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Transportation Bill Allows for $500 Mill for HCV for Vets
  House Passes Two Historic VA Reform Bills -
WASHINGTON, DC - Today, the House passed two pieces of VA reform legislation. The VA Accountability Act of 2015 passed with a vote of 256 - 170. The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 passed with a vote of 385 - 34.
The VA Budget and Choice Improvement Act
http://veterans.house.gov/sites/republicans.veterans.house.gov/files/Summary_the VA Budget and Choice Improvement Act.pdf
"Section 4 would allow VA to use $3.348 billion dollars from the Veterans Choice Fund to pay for non-VA care provided to veteran patients from May 1st to October 1st, 2015. Of that, VA would be allowed to use no more than $500 million dollars to cover the costs of Hepatitis C care. VA would be required to report to the House and Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs and Appropriations every 14 days on how these authorized funds are used and for which program."
"....... but approximately 179,000 veterans with hepatitis C will remain to be treated"
Newly passed legislation gives the VA flexibility to dip into the Veterans Choice Fund to meet a budget shortfall driven by increased demand and higher than expected hepatitis C care costs.
With just a day to spare, the Senate has passed a budget fix that will keep VA facilities running in August. Before recessing, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to help the VA meet its budgetary crunch. The Senate passed similar legislation Thursday afternoon. The provision was combined with a short-term fix of highway funding and gives the VA the flexibility to shift up to $3.3 billion from the Veterans Choice Fund for veterans' health care. The bill is expected to be signed by President Obama. Earlier this month, the VA warned that it was facing a significant budgetary shortfall and would be forced to close facilities or reduce services if the funding gap is not addressed by Congress. The VA had the money, but it was tied directly to providing access to care outside the VA. The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 provided $10 billion for the newly established Veterans Choice Fund to cover the costs of access to non-VA care. But until this fix, the VA was unable to use those funds for other purposes. "It is essential that Congress pass legislation to provide the requested budget flexibility by the end of July 2015," Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson wrote. "This is necessary to replenish critical operations funding that VA had to reallocate from other medical services programs to sustain Care in the Community, after those funds were depleted. If these program funds are not restored, VA will face shutting down hospital operations during August 2015."
One of the key drivers of the VA's fiscal woes has been a $500 million shortfall in meetings its obligations for hepatitis C (HCV) care. According to the VA, of 180,000 enrolled veterans diagnosed with HCV, VA only has treated 15%. During fiscal year (FY) 2015, 19,600 veterans were treated, up from 7,644 in FY 2014. Already the VA has allocated nearly $700 million for HCV care, but nevertheless anticipates needing another $500 million, based in part on FDA approval of new treatments this year.
According to a letter to Congress requesting budgetary flexibility, the VA has completed > 56.2 million appointments between June 1, 2014, and May 31, 2015, an increase of 2.6 million appointments from the previous year. In addition, the VA has made > 3 million authorizations for veterans to receive care in the private sector.
April 28, 2015, 11:00 am
Our veterans and Hep C
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/240210-our-veterans-and-hep-c The greatest threat to American forces on the battlefield is obviously the enemy. But once back home, service members and veterans continue to face threats to their health and their lives. Sometimes these hazards are obvious, as in the case of physical injuries. But other lingering threats to the lives and health of service members are less obvious until it's too late.
During the Vietnam War era, tens of thousands of service members were inadvertently infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). Some received blood transfusions with contaminated blood. Others contracted the virus through battlefield blood exposure. Yet others got HCV from shared needles or other means.
Whatever the method of exposure, almost175,000 veterans in the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today have been diagnosed with HCV, and as many as 45,000 more VA patients may have the virus but are undiagnosed. When left untreated, HCV can cause severe liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death. When these conditions set in, the need for a liver transplant is usually inevitable. This costly surgical procedure prolongs a veteran's life, but it will not cure this fatal disease.
For some time, there have been HCV treatments available to veterans who have the virus. But unfortunately these treatments had less than a 50 percent chance of curing the disease, and the interferon injections as part of the treatment regimen were painful and often cause other side effects like severe depression or suicidal thoughts.
Now, however, recent breakthroughs in medicine have led to new treatment options for veterans with HCV. Unlike the older options, these new treatments are more than 95 percent effective in curing the disease with much less pain and side effects and do not include interferon.
The VA has requested additional funding from Congress to enable the agency to treat veterans with HCV using these new drugs. The Appropriations Committee in the House just approved the VA's supplemental request to give more veterans these life-saving drugs, and for that we are grateful. But we hope that the Senate committee we go a step farther and include funding well above the House number for HCV in order to enable the VA to treat all veterans who became infected with the virus.
The modest up-front investment in treating and curing veterans with this disease can potentially save the VA and the American taxpayer tens of billions of dollars over the next ten years. The cost of a liver transplant alone can reach over a half-million dollars, and this does not even cure the veteran's virus.
When one factors in a liver transplant and the care and medications needed before and after the transplant, it's easy to see how the cost of HCV can easily reach a million dollars or more throughout each veteran's life. But Congress and the VA can save that veteran from suffering and can save taxpayer dollars by making available to as many veterans as possible these new treatments now that can cure this virus forever in as little as twelve weeks.
Opportunities for curing previously fatal diseases like this don't come very often. Congress should seize this historic opportunity on HCV and appropriate the resources for the VA to cure every veteran who is infected with the virus. It's the very least we can do for them in exchange for all they've done for us.
Berger is executive director of the Veterans Health Council at Vietnam Veterans of America.

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