Capito, Manchin Introduce Bill to Strengthen Opioid Safety in VA Choice Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. (PRESS RELEASE) – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) today introduced bipartisan legislation, the Andrew White Veterans Community Care Opioid Safety Act, to strengthen opioid therapy safety and pain care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community care programs, including through the VA Choice program. Senator Capito named the legislation in memory of West Virginian Andrew White, a Marine who was overprescribed a strong antipsychotic drug after returning home from Iraq and died tragically in his sleep at the age of 23.

To improve opioid safety and care for our veterans, Congress passed legislation introduced by Senators Capito and Baldwin—the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act (Jason’s Law)—to strengthen the VA’s opioid prescribing guidelines, put in place stronger oversight and accountability, and provide safer and more effective pain management services for our nation’s veterans.

While the VA has made progress increasing opioid safety and reducing overprescribing within the VA health care system through Jason’s Law, recent reports have found that veterans receiving opioid therapy from community care providers, including through the VA Choice program, are at a significant risk.

Jason’s Law was a significant step in preventing opioid overprescribing at the VA and holding VA officials and health care professionals accountable to the men and women who have selflessly served our country. However, it has become clear that more can be done to prevent addiction and opioid abuse among our veterans served by community care providers,” Senator Capito said. “This legislation will help ensure the health and well-being of all veterans seeking care—veterans like Andrew White, a brave Marine and West Virginian who tragically lost his life after being overprescribed. I’m proud to honor Andrew’s memory with this bill and to continue such an important effort with Senator Baldwin.”

“As a country, we owe our Veterans the best medical care available and that includes safely managing pain,” Senator Manchin said. “In 2016, I was proud to join Senator Baldwin in passing the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act in 2016, which strengthened VA opioid prescribing guidelines, and oversight and accountability. The Andrew White Veterans Community Care Opioid Safety Act is the next step to ensure that VA is not sending veterans out to irresponsible or reckless providers in the community who overprescribe opioids. I look forward to passing this legislation, which will safeguard the well-being and care of our nation’s bravest men and women.”

A July 2017 VA Office of Inspector General report on opioid prescribing in VA community care programs found that contract providers are not subject to many of the opioid safety reforms included in Jason’s Law and implemented at the VA. Specifically, community care providers are not aware of and thus, not complying with, VA opioid therapy and safe prescribing protocols. Furthermore, the VA is not consistently tracking opioid prescriptions from community care programs due to significant information exchange gaps between VA and non-VA providers.

The bipartisan Andrew White Veterans Community Care Opioid Safety Act would strengthen opioid therapy safety and pain care at VA community care programs by implementing the VA Inspector General’s recommendations and extending targeted opioid safety reforms in Jason’s Law to VA purchased care. This would ensure community care providers follow the same safe opioid prescribing standards and have access to the same up-to-date pain care information as VA practitioners to help guarantee that all of our veterans receive safe and high-quality care in their communities.

Specifically, the Andrew White Veterans Community Care Opioid Safety Act would:

  • Direct the VA to provide critical health information, including a list of medications, as well as the latest opioid safety guidelines immediately to a non-VA provider when a veteran accesses services through a community care program to ensure the provider has the information needed to provide safe and effective care.
  • Require non-VA community care providers to review the updated VA/DOD safe opioid prescribing guidelines and Opioid Safety Initiative protocols prior to delivering care to a veteran.
  • Direct non-VA community care providers to submit opioid medications they prescribe to a veteran to a VA pharmacy for dispensing and to ensure it is included in the VA database and the patient’s medical record for tracking.
  • Ensure that any veteran with an immediate medical need or who is unable to obtain the prescription at a VA pharmacy due travel distances or undue hardship may access it at another pharmacy, and directs their community care provider to notify and provide information on the prescription to VA.
  • Hold the VA accountable by requiring compliance reports to Congress and ensure that the VA can take action to protect veterans if a non-VA community care provider is not delivering safe or appropriate care.
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