Hiring Freeze And Obamacare Repeal Could Clobber Veterans Affairs | KUOW News and Information

Hiring Freeze And Obamacare Repeal Could Clobber Veterans Affairs

Jan 25, 2017
Originally published on January 25, 2017 6:10 am

As promised, President Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It's a concern for those who might be left without health insurance — and especially for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which may have to pick up some of the slack.

Carrie Farmer, a health policy researcher at the Rand Corp., says 3 million vets who are enrolled in the VA usually get their health care elsewhere — from their employer, or maybe from Obamacare exchanges. If those options go away, she has no idea just how many of those 3 million veterans will move over to the VA.

"I would expect that the number of veterans using VA health care will increase, which will only provide a further challenge for VA to provide timely and accessible care," Farmer says.

The VA has already seen a surge in usage in the past year, straining what has long been an overtaxed system.

That could get worse if the agency can't fill vacancies. Trump signed a federal hiring freeze this week, and while national security is supposed to be exempt, the VA is not. White House spokesman Sean Spicer called it a "broken" system.

"The VA in particular, if you look at the problems that have plagued people, hiring more people isn't the answer. It's hiring the right people," Spicer told reporters on Tuesday.

Just hours after the White House emphasized that there would be no exemption for the VA from the hiring freeze, the acting secretary of the agency, Robert Snyder, seemed to issue a contradiction.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to exempt anyone it deems necessary for public safety, including front-line caregivers," he said in a statement.

David Shulkin, Trump's nominee to lead the VA, in the past has stressed an urgent need to hire more caregivers. Shulkin has run the VA's health administration for the past two years, and he told NPR this past fall that negative attention to VA caused a 78 percent drop in applications there.

"We have 45,000 job openings. That's too many," Shulkin said. "I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we're doing the very best for our veterans."

Shulkin said the VA performs as well or better than private health care systems, but he said that long before he was asked to join the Trump administration.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs has not been confirmed yet, but two of the executive orders the president signed this week could have a direct effect on the department and also the veterans it serves, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: As promised, Donald Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare. That's a concern for those who might be left without health insurance and for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which may have to pick up some of the slack.

SENIOR POLICY RESEARCHER CARRIE FARMER: Most veterans have more than one source of health insurance.

LAWRENCE: Carrie Farmer at the RAND Corporation researches health policy. She says 3 million vets who are enrolled in the VA usually get their health care elsewhere, from their employer or maybe from Obamacare exchanges. If those options go away, some of those 3 million veterans will move on to the VA, she says.

FARMER: I would expect that the number of veterans using VA health care will increase, which will only provide a further challenge for VA to provide timely and accessible care.

LAWRENCE: That would be an unwelcome strain on an overtaxed system, she says. Speaking of strain, the president also signed a federal hiring freeze this week. Yesterday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer specifically said that applies to the VA, which he called a broken system.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: The VA in particular, if you look at the problems that have plagued people, hiring more people isn't the answer, it's hiring the right people.

LAWRENCE: Just hours later, the acting secretary of the VA seemed to contradict the White House. He said for public safety, the department intends to exempt anyone it deems necessary from the hiring freeze. Trump's nominee to lead the VA, Dr. David Shulkin, has also stressed the urgent need to hire more caregivers. He's been running VA health care since 2015. Last fall, he told NPR...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVID SHULKIN: We have 45,000 job openings, that's too many. I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we're doing the very best for veterans.

LAWRENCE: Shulkin said the VA performs as well or better than private health care systems, but he said that long before he was asked to join the Trump administration. Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOXHOLE SONG, "SPECTACLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.