By Elise Viebeck - 06/23/14 07:37 PM EDT
The Veterans Affairs Department repeatedly downplayed whistleblower complaints instead of admitting problems that led to widespread patient neglect, a federal watchdog said Monday.
In a six-page letter to President Obama and congressional leaders, Carolyn Lerner, the head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), said officials regularly claimed “harmless error” as a defense instead of taking steps to correct mistakes and improve medical care.
“As a result, veterans’ health and safety has been unnecessarily put at risk,” she added.
Her letter detailed nine cases across the country where the VA and its Office of the Medical Inspector received complaints, acknowledged treatment issues but still claimed patient care was “unaffected.”
The OSC, which investigates whistleblower complaints throughout the federal government, has referred 29 additional cases to the VA for scrutiny. Read more here.
O-CARE SPOKESWOMAN TO RESIGN: The administration official who battled the press during ObamaCare's troubled rollout is resigning her position to seek other opportunities, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Monday.
Julie Bataille, the lead CMS spokeswoman, became known last fall as the main voice on a daily press call where journalists grilled the administration about problems and repairs at HealthCare.gov.
She handled a broad portfolio of issues for the agency in addition to the Affordable Care Act, including open enrollment in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP.
CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner shared the news of Bataille's departure with colleagues in a notice that was later forwarded to journalists.
The agency did not announce her next move, and a CMS spokesman said Bataille has no plans at this time. Read more here.
HELP PANEL GRILLS CDC OVER ANTHRAX: Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are probing why scientists may have been exposed to anthrax at a federal health agency.
The lawmakers wrote to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Monday asking exactly what happened during the incident earlier this month.
"This breach in safety protocol threatened the health and safety of CDC staff and raises serious concerns and questions with respect to the protocols and procedures that were followed at the biosafety labs," the letter stated.
"Of additional concern is the fact that the HELP Committee ... did not learn of this incident until nearly a week after it was detected." Read the letter here.
ANTI-ABORTION GROUP TO SCORE VOTE: The anti-abortion group National Right to Life Committee called a proposed Democratic constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance a "naked attempt" to keep incumbents in office, and urged senators to oppose it.
The group wrote a letter to senators saying it would score the vote on its annual scorecard as one to "restrict and criminalize speech that is critical of their positions and votes on crucial public policy issues, including abortion."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to schedule a vote on the amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and sponsored by more than 40 Democrats. The proposal is almost universally opposed by Republicans and has little chance of passing.
The proposal aims to give Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign finance — including outside spending. It is a reaction to a pair of Supreme Court decisions that loosened regulations on unlimited outside spending and fundraising on federal races. Read more here.
ADVOCATES HIGHLIGHT CHILDHOOD CANCER: Advocates for those with childhood cancers will tell lawmakers Tuesday that more funding is badly needed to help research and treat the diseases.
Members of the Alliance for Childhood Cancer are calling on congressional leaders to pass the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Reauthorization Act and increase funding to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The total estimated bill would be $5.26 billion for fiscal year 2015. It includes an additional $8 million for NCI bringing its funds to $4.93 billion under President Obama’s proposed budget.
“We know that through these visits and the grassroots efforts of those who were unable to travel to join us in person, we can demonstrate to Congress the power they have to make a difference in the lives of children with cancer, now and into the future,” said Amy Billett, co-chairwoman of the Alliance for Childhood Cancer. Read more here.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a roundtable on digital healthcare as part of its 21st Century Cures initiative.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation will honor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during an evening event at the Newseum.
State by state
NJ ObamaCare gets another insurer
In Va., GOP will try to thwart McAuliffe line-item vetoes
NC gov directs steep budget cuts
Gallup: Most newly insured used ObamaCare
Drug discount program has manufacturers crying foul
Judge gives House panel more time to prep after subpoena