CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, December 6, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 5399, the Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 5399 was introduced on June 7, 2016, by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which ordered the bill reported by voice vote on September 21, 2016.
H.R. 5399 directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure that each VA physician is informed of the duty to report any “covered” or unethical health care activity committed by another physician that the physician witnesses or otherwise discovers to the applicable state licensing authority within five days of occurrence.
It is standard practice within the medical community that physicians must report other physicians that engage in unsafe, incompetent, or unethical health care practice that may put patients at risk to the applicable state licensing body (SLB). This is so that patients are treated in the most beneficial way possible and appropriate disciplinary action can be taken.
Under VA regulations, specifically 38 C.F.R. Part 47, “it is the policy of VA to report to SLBs any currently employed licensed health care professional or separated licensed health professional whose clinical practice during VA employment so significantly failed to meet generally accepted standards of clinical practice as to raise reasonable concern for the safety of patients.” Examples of unacceptable care include patient neglect; impairment; substance abuse; falsification of credentials, medical records, or prescriptions; mental, physical, sexual or verbal abuse of a patient; or unethical or moral turpitude. Unfortunately, because the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Handbook calls for multiple levels of review at the local, regional, and national level, the reporting process can cause delays of months or sometimes years that put patients at unacceptable or continued health risk. Currently, whenever VA receives a report of substandard health practice, it takes at least 100 days to decide whether to refer the matter to a state licensing board.
This bill seeks to ameliorate the VA’s existing policies regarding reporting inappropriate behavior by allowing for direct reporting by physicians who witness such medical care to their respective SLBs. Therefore, Section 2 of the bill would require VA to ensure that each VA physician is informed of his or her duty to directly report any witnessed medical care that is deemed unacceptable to the applicable state licensing authority within five days.
According to the bill’s sponsor, “It is unacceptable that clinicians practicing at the VA could be fired for providing substandard care to veterans and move into private practice before their state licensing board is made aware of the complaints lodged against them, if they’re every made aware at all. If we expect to change the culture at VA hospitals and clinics around the country, we must make reporting obligations at the VA consistent with existing professional ethical standards. My bill will ensure no bad actors at the VA slip through the cracks because of favoritism or corruption, and I look forward to moving this important legislation to protect veterans through Congress.” 
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 5399 would have no significant costs for administrative activities over the 2017-2021 period and spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds. The bill would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.
For questions or further information please contact John Wilson with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-1811.