S. 1112. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to permit Department of Veterans Affairs pharmacies to dispense medications on prescriptions written by private practitioners to veterans who are currently awaiting their first appointment with the Department for medical care, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, there are now nearly 200,000 American veterans today who are forced to wait at least 6 months for their first visit with a Department of Veterans Affairs physician. Despite having served their country and been promised health benefits, these veterans are receiving deferred and rationed health care because of chronic underfunding and bureaucratic red tape. It amounts to a broken promise with men and women who have served in our armed forces. To help ensure that our veterans receive the care they need and have been guaranteed, today I am pleased to introduce the Veterans' Prescription Drug Reform Act of 2003.
Veterans enrolled in the VA health care program are entitled to a prescription drug benefit. This is an essential benefit given the importance of pharmaceuticals in health care today. However, there's a bureaucratic catch: the benefit only applies to prescriptions written by a VA physician, and there are nearly 200,000 veterans who now wait 6 months or longer for their first visit with a VA physician. For those veterans in need of medicine and waiting months on end to see a VA physician, the benefit has little value.
The VA has reported to Congress that, while it has no exact figure, it estimates that tens of thousands of the veterans now on the waiting list are there primarily to access their prescription drug benefit. In many of these cases, veterans have already seen a private physician and have a prescription. But in order to use the VA pharmacy and receive their prescription benefit, these individuals must duplicate their health care visits and see a VA physician. This delays health care benefits for far too many veterans.
The Veterans' Prescription Drug Reform Act of 2003 would permit veterans already on the waiting list to fill a prescription written by a private physician at the VA pharmacy.
Specifically, the Veterans' Prescription Drug Reform Act of 2003 would give the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to permit veterans on the waiting list for their first appointment with a VA physician at the date of enactment to use the VA pharmacy to fill prescriptions written by a private physician. It would also preserve the core healthcare mission of the VA by limiting this initiative only to those currently waiting for their first appointment. The proposal calls for a report to Congress in 1 year so that its potential expansion can be evaluated.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs has told Congress that he would support such a proposal, and I look forward to working with Senator HARKIN, who joins me in sponsoring this legislation, and my other colleagues in the Senate on this common-sense approach to reducing the lengthy wait-lines for veterans' healthcare.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.