Collins, King Urge Action On Delayed VA Medical Leases

Portland outpatient facility one of eighteen major medical leases across the country have been awaiting congressional action for more than one year

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King joined a bipartisan group of thirteen other Senators on a letter urging the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to authorize leases for eighteen major medical facilities across twelve states that have been awaiting congressional authorization for over a year, including a potential outpatient facility in Portland, Maine. Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must receive specific legislative authorization to lease medical facilities with average annual rental payments in excess of $1 million. But since 2012, Congress has not, through a regular process, authorized any VA major medical facility leases, hampering the ability of the VA to provide much-needed health care and services to veterans around the country.

“These lease authorizations are needed to enable the VA to deliver care and services to veterans across the United States,” said the group of Senators in their letter. “As such, we ask that you act swiftly to authorize these pending leases until a more permanent solution to the issue can be found. Inaction on this issue hampers the ability of veterans in our states to access timely and quality care from the VA.”

Among the projects stuck in limbo is a proposed collaboration between the VA Maine Healthcare System, Maine Medical Center, and Tufts University Center of Medicine to create an outpatient facility in Portland aimed at improving veteran access to care. This public-private partnership is based on patient care, education, and research.

One reason for the delay in congressional authorization has been a recent change in the way that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores these leases. Prior to 2012, the VA classified major medical facility leases as operating leases and recorded the obligations on an annual basis in an amount equal to the lease payments due in that year, and the CBO used VA’s classification to score the legislation.

In 2012, CBO determined that budget authority for these leases, many of which cover a 20-year period, should be recorded up front when the leases are initiated and the acquisition occurs, not when the debt is repaid. As such, scoring for legislation that authorized these leases increased significantly, even though actual spending would not increase and the leases are ultimately subject to annual appropriations.

The scoring change has stymied efforts to authorize any VA major medical facility leases. Currently, eighteen leases in twelve states from fiscal years 2015 and 2016 have been pending authorization in Congress for more than one year. The CBO scores the overall cost of these eighteen leases at $904 million. In a letter to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today, the Senators urged the Committee to allow leases to go forward on the eighteen facilities from FY 2016 and FY 2017 while Congress seeks a more permanent resolution on the scoring challenges.

The other Senators who signed the letter today are: Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

A signed PDF of the letter is available HERE.