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Mar 20

FRA NewsBytes March 20 2015

FRA Newsbytes 03/20/2015

FRA Newsbytes 03/20/2015

In this issue:
FRA Testifies on Capitol Hill
“Doc Fix” Deadline Looms Closer
Budget Battle could have Substantial Impact on National Security and Benefits
Debt Ceiling Limit Reached

FRA Testifies on Capitol Hill
National Executive Director (NED) Thomas Snee testified before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees this week, asking Congress to work to reduce the large backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), expand presumption for Blue Water Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange herbicide while serving off the cost of Vietnam, and provide critical oversight over the Veterans Choice program that increases veterans use of non-VA care.

NED Snee cited other issues addressed in the Association’s full statement, including full concurrent receipt for all disabled military retirees, expanded suicide prevention programs, veteran’s status for Reserve Component with 20 or more years of service, and reform of the Uniform Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA). A copy of the written testimony is available on the website at www.fra.org/testimony.

To see a video of the full legislative presentation of multiple VSOs (JWV, AFSA, TREA, FRA, NASDVA, NGAUS, AXPOW, GSW and WWP), click this link and skip ahead to minute 21:54.
“Doc Fix” Deadline Looms Closer
House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have reportedly agreed on legislation to change the way Medicare/TRICARE pays doctors. Specific details of the agreement are scheduled to be released Monday, March 23, 2015. Congress passed a one-year extension to the “Doc Fix” on March 31, 2014, which was the 17th temporary “doc fix” since 2003 to protect doctors who see Medicare/TRICARE patients from a 22 percent cut to reimbursements. These cuts are mandated by a 1997 formula known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), and will take effect April 1, 2015 unless Congress acts. Although Congress allowed the first cuts to take effect in 2002, it has stepped in with temporary delays to reimbursement cuts since that time, fearing that doctors would otherwise leave the Medicare and TRICARE programs and reducing TRICARE/Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care.

FRA, physician groups, and other stakeholders have long pushed for a permanent “doc fix,” criticizing the uncertainty created by short-range fixes. The real difficulty is in determining how to pay for making the “doc fix” permanent. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate, legislation would cost $144 billion from fiscal 2014 through 2024.

Congress cleared a one-year fix (PL 113-93) on March 31, 2014—the day the previous fix expired—giving physicians a 0.5 percent payment increase for the rest of 2014. This current agreement expires April 1, 2015. Members are strongly urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators at this critical time to make the “doc fix” permanent.
Budget Battle could have Substantial Impact on National Security and Benefits
One of the battles over the FY 2016 budget resolution is whether to include drastic cuts to the Defense budget mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA), better known as sequestration, or to provide more robust defense spending beyond these limits.

The spending limits are being considered as part of the budget resolution for FY 2016. The budget resolution serves as a blueprint for spending in the next fiscal year and should exclude the Defense budget from sequestration cuts. These budget cuts mandate that half of all sequestration cuts come from Defense even though the Defense budget only makes up only 17 percent of the budget. Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to exclude the Defense budget from these across-the-board “mindless” sequestration budget cuts.
Debt Ceiling Limit Reached
Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew has informed Congress that the federal government hit its debt ceiling on March 16, 2015. Failure to raise the debt ceiling means the government will not be able to borrow money to pay its debts. According to the Secretary, without raising the debt limit, the treasury department will need to impose “extraordinary measures” to meet federal obligations. These obligations include military pay, VA compensation, Social Security, Medicare payments, and tax refunds. While the government can shift money between accounts for a while, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), funding will expire sometime in October or November. That time frame parallels the deadline for passing the FY 2016 appropriations bills that are due on Oct. 1, 2015, which marks the start of the new fiscal year.

President Obama and congressional Democrats want a debt limit increase vote with no other provisions. They claimed that raising the debt limit does not authorize new spending, but rather allows the federal government to pay for the obligations it has already incurred and approved. House and Senate Leadership claim that it’s irresponsible to continue heavy deficit spending without implementing greater fiscal restraint.