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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Tester Frustrated By Mission Act Rollout

Sen. Jon Tester  (D) - Montana, during a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing Wed, April 10, 2019.
Sen. Jon Tester (D) - Montana, during a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing Wed, April 10, 2019.

Senator Jon Tester says he’s frustrated with how the Veterans Administration is preparing to roll out legislation he wrote to reform how veterans get health care outside the VA system.

At a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, Tester questioned VA officials about the Mission Act. He’s expressed concern about it being used as a tool to eventually privatize veterans health care.
"So what I see is behavior that smacks of a deliberate effort not to implement the best policy, but to potentially carry out what I think is a political agenda," Tester said.
New Mission Act policies specifying which vets can bill the VA for private sector health care and how to do that, are supposed to launch June 6. Lawmakers in the U.S. House last week asked the VA to delay rolling out the Mission Act, citing problems with information technology.

Tester told VA officials he’s concerned that, in the name of avoiding long wait times to see doctors, the VA could be sending veterans to get care from physicians in the private sector before it knows if they, too, have long wait times, or have been vetted for quality. 

"We’re doing this whole Mission Act for the sole purpose of timely, quality care. And if we don’t know that information, it may be better for that veteran to stay with the VA care and have that appointment, even though it is past the 20 day period or the 28 day period."

The VA says it remains on track for the June 6 launch of the Mission Act, one year after President Trump signed it into law.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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