U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Announces New Bill to Improve Vets' Access to Healthcare

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman addresses Veterans' healthcare access concerns on Veterans' Day, 2015. Credits:

EWING, NJ -  During remarks at Mercer County Community College’s Veterans Day Program today, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12, announced new legislation aimed at improving veterans’ access to health care and simultaneously addressing the closure of medical centers in underserved areas, according to a press release from her office.

According to the release, the Veterans Affairs Public-Private Leasing Partnership Study Act of 2015 would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to study the feasibility of entering into public-private partnership agreements with underused medical facilities, particularly in urban and rural areas, allowing veterans to receive care without needing to travel long distances to VA hospital facilities.

In the process, hospitals struggling to stay open would have more patients to serve, increasing economic activity in those communities, according to the release.

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“This legislation would offer a combined solution to two major challenges – improving access to care for veterans, and keeping hospitals open in communities struggling economically,” said Watson Coleman. “Veterans frequently travel long distances, and over state lines, to get care. Some of them rely on public transportation, but are required to get to VA facilities only accessible by car. If there are ways to offer the same or better treatment and care for our veterans closer to their homes, while also keeping our hospitals open, we can’t afford not to take advantage of it.”

Hospital closures have become a significant problem nationwide, the release said.

According to the University of North Carolina Sheps Center for Health Services Research, 58 rural hospitals have closed across the country since 2010.

Similar trends, with different causes, have been seen in urban hospitals.

In New Jersey alone, 18 hospitals have either closed or filed for bankruptcy over the past ten years, most of them located in urban centers or suburban areas, according to the release.

The VA Public-Private Leasing Partnership Study Act of 2015 would give the VA 180 days to study the usefulness and potential impact of partnerships with struggling hospitals, determining if such partnerships would broaden access to veterans. Further, the bill would require the VA to:

  • Assess veterans’ current access to Veterans Health Administration facilities in densely populated and rural communities, and issues hindering access;
  • Assess the feasibility of entering leasing agreements with non-Department facilities and;
  • Evaluate the impact of Congressional approval on leases, including the potential for delayed access.

Original cosponsors of the bill currently include Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (NJ-10), and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), the release said.

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