News from Capitol Hill

On April 13, the U.S. Senate passed S. 3148, the TRICARE Affirmation Act. The legislation explicitly states that TRICARE and Department of Defense non-appropriated fund health plans meet the minimum essential coverage standard for individual health insurance required by the recently enacted health-care reform law. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. The bill was sent to the White House for the president's signature.

The House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing on April 13, 2010, to examine the Department of Defense Medical Centers of Excellence (CoE). Dr. Charles Rice, performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and the service surgeons general testified about the impact the existing CoEs have on improving care for servicemembers, the high expectations for future CoEs and the current challenges of creating a governance model for each center.

On April 15, 2010, the Senate passed H.R. 4851, the Continuing Extension Act of 2010. This legislation provides an $18 billion short-term extension of unemployment benefits. The measure also extends the COBRA program, which allows individuals to continue to receive the health insurance they had from a former employer - and delays a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies held a hearing on April 15 to examine proposed budget estimates for fiscal 2011 for the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki presented the president's fiscal 2011 budget and fiscal 2012 advance appropriations request for VA. In his testimony, Shinseki outlined the goals of the VA to address three concerns: easier access to benefits and services; reducing the disability claims backlog and the time veterans wait before receiving earned benefits; and ending the downward spiral that results in veterans' homelessness.