Monday, January 14, 2008

Congress pay attention

NOT JUSTIFIED -- Bill Smith: "Those who depend on the

VA-administered prescription drug program

wince every time Congress reconvenes."

Story here... http://www.timesleade

Story below:



Another increase in co-pay fee for vets not justified BILL SMITH


WITH A NEW YEAR beginning, veterans ask many questions that can only be answered in the halls of Congress -- and only when they are asked. For a long time it has been rumored and bantered about that the cost of pharmaceutical co-payments within the Veterans Affairs hospitals will be increased. The last increase was $1 and that raised the co-pay to $8. True, an increase at that amount is still within the realm of manageability, but the foreboding idea of eventually raising that fee to $15 remains a potential anchor around the necks of those depending on medications issued through the VA system.

Yet, those who depend on the VA-administered prescription drug program wince every time Congress reconvenes. They’re wondering if that co-pay raise will remain on the back burner or will become a fact, thus forcing veterans to bear the impact of such a raise.

In 2005, then-VA Secretary James Nicholson made the decision to raise co-payment fees. Congress, a few years ago, wrote into law that the secretary can increase co-payments to keep up with inflation should he so desire. The first time the rule was utilized was in 2001 when the co-payment rose from $2 to $7 -- far outpacing the 3 percent inflation rate of that time. In 2003, then-VA Secretary Anthony Principi suspended access to VA health care for veterans in Priority Group 8. This came as a result of Congress approving the Health Care Eligibility Reform Act in 1996, which opened the gates to VA health care to all who served honorably.

In ensuing years veterans were marketed into the VA system where they discovered the care was great and the cost was fair and their service to their country was appreciated. The number of patients began increasing in the VA, but the VA failed to keep up with collections from insurance companies and Congress tightened up its purse strings.

By 2002, more than 300,000 veterans nationwide were waiting in line for care at the underfunded VA hospitals and clinics. Members of Congress then turned to a clause in the 1996 law that gave the VA secretary the authority to suspend access if the budget went astray. So Principi utilized the escape clause and suspended Group 8 veterans from VA care, putting a cap on enrollment, thus leaving Congress free to spend tax dollars on such programs that just didn’t make too much sense.

The cry is, “why is it always the veterans and their benefits that suffer when those in Washington decide on budget cuts and restraints and aim their sights on the aging veteran?”

With every thing exhibiting a rise in cost for services and everyday living, it is not surprising to note that costs in the medical field have skyrocketed to almost unheard of levels. Blame can be pointed in just about any direction for these prohibitive increases, but the cry from those conglomerates that produce medicines and drugs had the price increases directly tied to research and the approval process of those high-priced drugs.

The veteran who now pays $8 per prescription and is on, for example, eight different medications pays $64 each month to stay alive. With an increase of $7 that makes each prescription cost $15. That monthly total would rise to $120, or $56 more for each supply of prescription drugs. With a new session of Congress, it would be the opportune time to let our representatives and senators know that enough is enough already.


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org

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