Senate passes Tester’s VA reform bill; heads to president’s desk for signature

by Missoula Current, Martin Kidston

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a VA reform bill that revamps the agency’s health care system and addresses the workforce shortage that has left patients facing significant delays when scheduling an appointment at some clinics, including that in Missoula.

The bill, written by Sens. Jon Tester and Johnny Isakson, cleared the Senate on a 92-5 vote and now goes to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature.

“Our bill puts veterans in the driver’s seat and removes government bureaucracy that has caused so many headaches for Montana veterans,” Tester said. “This bill makes the VA stronger and allows veterans to seek care in their community when the VA can’t deliver.”

Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee and Isakson, the Republican chairman, co-wrote the legislation over the past year. They hailed it as a landmark reform package the day before the vote.

The bill does away with the Choice program and establishes a single community care program that allows veterans and their doctors to chose where they get health care.

It also streamlines access to community providers and creates new standards for faster reimbursements to private providers who care for vets.

Daines supported the measure.

“Under the Choice Program, our veterans did not receive the healthcare they deserved,” said Daines. “The bipartisan MISSION Act will follow through on the promises that were made to our Veterans.”

The MISSION Act, or Caring for Our Veterans Act, also address the VA’s workforce shortage by incentivizing medical residents to work in rural facilities and by recruiting medical scribes to assist doctors.

Isakson thanked Tester in writing the bill, as well as Congress for passing it.

“I look forward to sending this to the president’s desk to be signed into law ahead of Memorial Day as a small token of ‘thanks’ to our nation’s veterans for answering the call and defending the freedoms we enjoy today,” Isakson said