The VA is opposing a bill sponsored by Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.) that seeks to correct the snafus that led to nearly 100 veterans getting incorrect radiation doses at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center over six years.
"We appreciate the intent to H.R. 4062 but for a number of reasons we do not support it," because of its onerous reporting requirements, Robert Jesse, acting principle under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration told the VA Subcommittee on Health.
The bill – mirrored by a Senate bill introduced by Pennsylvania Democratic Senators Bob Casey and Arlen Specter – would require the VA to submit an annual report to Congress on all its medical programs that treat 100 or fewer patients a year, ensure that all employees at VA health facilities are trained in regulations for radiation safety, and require independent reviews of the performance of all contractors providing medical care at its medical centers.
Jesse said the bill was too vague in its definition of what constituted a program and would require something on the order of 50,000 reports a year on the 971 medical service contracts it currently has. That would "pull our people away from clinical work and we become basically a reporting agency," he said.
UPDATE: Thursday evening afternoon, Rep. Adler responded that the VA was either confused or deliberately misreading the legislation that requires contracts with outside medical providers be reviewed to ensure standardweekly peer reviews are conducted when those contracts come up for renewal.
"Once more, the VA has got it wrong," Adler said. "Giving our veterans the best standard of care possible should never be considered a useless bureaucratic exercise."
He added, "doctors regularly use weekly peer review as a way to deliver the best care possible. Excluding the VA's brachytherapy program from weekly peer review is rubber stamping substandard care for our nation's veterans. The VA's ongoing resistance is simply unacceptable."
The bill was a direct response to problems in a prostate cancer treatment program at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. From February 2002 until the prostate brachytherapy program in Philadelphia was closed in June 2008, 97 of the 114 veterans treated by having tiny radioactive seeds implanted in the acorn-sized gland got incorrect doses.
Prostate brachytherapy involves implanting dozens of tiny radioactive seeds into the prostate gland to kill cancerous cells over several months. It is an effective treatment when done correctly. Records show that the Philadelphia VA's program was deeply flawed from its earliest patients, and that doctors and officials repeatedly missed chances to fix it.
The legislation is "a comprehensive piece of legislation that seeks to remedy many of the mistakes that led to the problems surrounding the brachytherapy program at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center," Adler said. "This bill has three major components centered on increasing oversight and ensuring reform throughout the VA Healthcare System."
Check our all the written testimony at the hearing Thursday morning here.
On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a report that found the VA's radiation safety oversight was lacking nationally and that the Veterans Health Administration had apparently violated three federal regulations. Click here to see the full story on how the NRC could strip the VA of its ability to oversee radiation services at all 153 hospitals nationwide.
Check out other stories on the prostate brachytherapy program at the Philadelphia VA:
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Feds see wider woes in VA's cancer errors
Sunday, July 19, 2009
VA radiation errors laid to offline computer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Claims against Phila. VA up to $58 million
Thursday, Mar. 18, 2010
NRC fines Phila. VA $227,500 over prostate care
Tuesday, May 4, 2010