tvoivozd at infionline.net
Mon Feb 7 21:40:18 EST 2005
The New York Times
February 7, 2005
Bush Budget Raises Prescription Prices for Many Veterans
By ROBERT PEAR and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 - President Bush's budget would more than double the
co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would
require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using
government health care, administration officials said Sunday.
The proposals, they said, are in the $2.5 trillion budget that Mr. Bush
plans to unveil on Monday. White House officials said the budget
advanced his goal of cutting the deficit, which hit a record last year.
"We are being tight," Vice President Dick Cheney said on "Fox News
Sunday." "This is the tightest budget that has been submitted since we
The proposals to increase charges to veterans face stiff opposition from
veterans organizations, Democratic members of Congress and some Republicans.
Mr. Cheney said the White House had judiciously identified scores of
domestic programs to be cut or eliminated. "It's not something we've
done with a meat ax, nor are we suddenly turning our backs on the most
needy people in our society."
The proposals could provoke months of furious debate on Capitol Hill.
Democrats have already indicated that they are poised to pounce on any
sign that the Bush administration is stinting on veterans' benefits.
Over all, the president is seeking $70.8 billion for the Department of
Veterans Affairs in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, say
Congressional aides who have seen budget documents from the agency.
The total consists of $33.4 billion in discretionary spending, which is
subject to annual appropriation by Congress, and $37.4 billion for
entitlements, like disability compensation, survivor benefits and
pensions, which are authorized under prior laws.
Health care accounts for almost all of the agency's discretionary
spending. Mr. Bush is seeking an increase of 2.7 percent, or $880
million, in such spending.
The president would increase the co-payment for a month's supply of a
prescription drug to $15, from the current $7. The administration says
the co-payment and the $250 "user fee" would apply mainly to veterans in
lower-priority categories, who have higher incomes and do not have
The government had no immediate estimate of how many veterans would be
affected if the user fee and co-payment proposals were adopted. But
veterans' groups said that hundreds of thousands of people would end up
paying more and that many would be affected by both changes.
Veterans groups attacked the proposals. Richard B. Fuller, legislative
director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said: "The proposed
increase in health spending is not sufficient at a time when the number
of patients is increasing and there has been a huge increase in health
care costs. It will not cover the need. The enrollment fee is a health
care tax, designed to raise revenue and to discourage people from
Mr. Fuller added that the budget would force veterans hospitals and
clinics to limit services. "We are already seeing an increase in waiting
lists, even for some Iraq veterans," he said.
In Michigan, for example, thousands of veterans are on waiting lists for
medical services, and some reservists returning from Iraq say they have
been unable to obtain the care they were promised. A veterans clinic in
Pontiac, Mich., put a limit on new enrollment. Cutbacks at a veterans
hospital in Altoona, Pa., are forcing some veterans to seek treatment
But Cynthia R. Church, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans
Affairs, defended the administration's record. "Our budget increase from
2001 to 2005 for health care alone has been more than 40 percent," Ms.
Church said. "President Bush has kept his commitment to veterans."
The department expects to care for five million people at its hospitals
and clinics this year. Under the new budget, the agency will focus on
what officials describe as their "core constituency," including veterans
with service-related disabilities or low incomes.
The budget also advances previously announced plans to close or scale
back some veterans hospitals. Money spent on underused buildings and
excess land could be better spent providing care to veterans, the agency
Veterans groups want a $3.5 billion increase in the department's health
care budget next year, but Congressional aides said the request was
Other budget details came to light over the weekend as well. Sifting
through documents, Tobin L. Smith, a policy analyst at the Association
of American Universities, which represents 60 large research
universities, found a shift in priorities at the Pentagon.
"In the budget request for 2006," Mr. Smith said, "Defense Department
spending for science and technology is significantly reduced, while the
budget for development, testing and evaluation of major weapons systems
The Pentagon budget provides $10.5 billion for science and technology in
2006, a reduction of $2.5 billion from this year's level, he said.
"We are concerned about that change because it means the Defense
Department will be providing less support for university research," Mr.
Smith said. "Engineering and computer science will be particularly hard
The new budget will not show the costs of the president's top domestic
priority, revamping Social Security to let people divert some of their
payroll taxes to individual investment accounts.
To finance the change, Mr. Cheney said, the federal government would
need to borrow $750 billion in the next 10 years and "trillions more
after that." But, he said, "the personal accounts will themselves
provide a significant return for those who hold them, so that they'll
get a better deal."
Any effort to restrain spending on veterans programs is sure to provoke
strong criticism from Democrats, who contend that the Republican-led
Congress and the Bush administration have already shortchanged current
and former members of the military.
In recent years, Democrats have been trying to emphasize their support
of veterans programs, taking aim at a constituency that has been seen as
reliably Republican. The administration's effort has caused some
discomfort for Republicans.
In early January, House leaders ousted the chairman of the Veterans
Affairs Committee, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of
New Jersey, who was seen as a strong advocate of veterans programs and
higher spending. Mr. Smith was replaced by Representative Steve Buyer,
Republican of Indiana.
Jim Nicholson, the new secretary of veterans affairs, heard many
concerns about veterans' health care when he had his confirmation
hearing before a Senate committee last month.
Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, chairman of the panel, the
Committee on Veterans Affairs, told Mr. Nicholson, "The fiscal
environment that you inherit will be considerably less friendly than the
relatively flush times the V.A. has enjoyed over the last four years."
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