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Montana Legislative Issues

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Tester Steps up Fight to Bring More VA Doctors to Rural Montana

Senator Introduces Bill to Incentivize Medical Staff to Work in Frontier America

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester introduced legislation to recruit more medical professionals to serve rural veterans and to help fill the 45,000 vacancies at VA facilities across the country.

Tester’s Stronger Medical Workforce Act establishes a list of underserved VA facilities using criteria like the ratio of veterans to health care providers in a certain geographic area. It offers student loan assistance and full tuition reimbursement to doctors and medical students who work at those facilities and expedites their hiring.

“Rural veterans shouldn’t be forced to drive great distances for their health care,” said Tester. “That’s why I introduced this bill, to bring more VA doctors to rural and underserved veterans. My bill will help fix a chronic problem the VA has in Montana and all across frontier America: a shortage of medical professionals.”

The Stronger Medical Workforce Act requires the VA to identify impediments and challenges to filling vacancies and craft a plan to fill them. Under Tester’s bill, the VA and the Surgeon General will work together to assign at least 500 commissioned Public Health Service Officers to VA facilities.

Tester’s bill also allows clinical staff working at Vet Centers to participate in the VA’s education debt reduction program.

Tester recently called on VA Secretary David Shulkin to come up with a list of new ideas to improve how the VA is addressing medical and clinical vacancies in Montana. That list is not yet complete.

Tester also introduced the Caring for Our Veterans Act, which incentivizes medical residents and providers to work at rural, tribal and underserved VA facilities and deploys mobile teams to provide additional care at VA facilities that need it.

Tester has already made progress on improving the VA workforce. Provisions of Tester’s Better Workforce for Veterans Act were signed into law as a part of Tester’s bipartisan legislation to strengthen VA and community care. His law streamlines the hiring process for hard-to-fill positions and includes a number of recruitment and retention initiatives to bring and keep medical professionals at the VA.

Tester, Rounds, Baldwin, Tillis Urge VA to Honor Veterans’ Emergency Care Claims

Senators Urge VA to Reimburse Veterans For Their Emergency Treatment Claims Before Recent Court Decision

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are calling on the VA to ensure that it is reimbursing veterans who were billed for emergency treatment at private hospitals.

In January, the VA announced that it would not retroactively reimburse veterans for their emergency treatment despite a court decision that ruled the VA is responsible for emergency medical costs at private, non-VA hospitals.

In response, the Senators wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin urging him to reimburse veterans who filed a claim for emergency medical costs before the court ruling.

“Between 2010 and April 16, 2016, the VA erroneously denied thousands of veterans’ claims for emergency treatment,” the Senators wrote. “With the VA’s recent interpretation of this ruling, veterans who filed claims before April 16, 2016 would see no relief from the VA’s wrongful application of the law and would be stuck paying medical bills that Congress intended that the VA pay. We ask that the VA include those veterans whose claims were decided before April 16, 2016, so that all veterans can fully take advantage of a benefit Congress intended they receive.”

The Expansion of Veteran Eligibility for Reimbursement Act, enacted in 2010, directed the VA to pay for veterans’ emergency treatment at non-VA facilities unless the veteran has another form of insurance that entirely covers their medical costs. Since 2010, the VA has denied thousands of claims because a veteran’s other insurance partially paid for their treatment, leaving veterans to cover the difference for costly emergency care.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled on April 16, 2016, that the VA’s interpretation of its responsibility for non-VA emergency treatment was wrong and ordered the VA to begin paying these claims. Despite that, the VA has chosen not to pay veterans who filed before the 2016 court ruling.

The VA released its new policy regarding payment or reimbursement for emergency treatment at private hospitals on January 9, 2018. The VA will only pay for new claims or those not decided prior to April 16, 2016.

Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also signed the letter to Secretary Shulkin.