CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 5399, the Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 5399 was introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) on June 7, 2016, and was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which ordered the bill reported by voice vote on September 21, 2016.
H.R. 5399 would require physicians employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to report unethical health care practices that take place at VA medical facilities to the appropriate state licensing authority within five days of occurrence. The bill also would require VA to inform physicians of their duty to report.
In general, physicians must report other physicians that engage in incompetent, unsafe, or unethical behavior that may put patients at risk to the applicable state licensing body (SLB) so that appropriate disciplinary action can be taken. The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics states that ‘‘[t]he obligation to report incompetent or unethical conduct that may put patients at risk is recognized in both the ethical standards of the profession and in law and physicians should be able to report such conduct without fear or loss of favor.’’
Under current law, VA monitors and evaluates the quality of health care through its quality-assurance program. Under that program, physicians may confidentially submit reports of unethical practices that they witness. Currently, whenever VA receives a report of substandard health care practices, it takes generally at least 100 days to decide whether to refer the matter to a state licensing board.
The Committee believes that VA’s existing policies regarding reporting inappropriate behavior to SLBs or other relevant bodies must be more timely and must allow for direct reporting by physicians to SLBs for impaired, incompetent, or unethical medical care that puts patients at risk. The bill would require VA to ensure that each VA physician is informed of his/her duty to report directly to the applicable state licensing authority any covered activity committed by another physician that the physician witnesses or otherwise discovers within five days.
According to the bill sponsor, “As a physician, I strongly believe clinicians who wish to report wrongdoing at the VA should go directly to their state licensing board. 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 ever 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.”
 See House Report 114-815 at 2.
 See American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics, Chapter 9: Opinions on Professional Self-Regulation
 See House Report 114-815 at 2.
 See Rep. Phil Roe Press Release, “Roe Introduces Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act,” June 7, 2016.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enacting the bill would have insignificant costs for administrative activities over the 2017-2021 period; that spending would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.
For questions or further information please contact John Huston with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-5539.