June 16, 2014


The VA Reform Legislation Is a “Trojan Horse” for Privatization. In the aftermath of the Veterans Affairs scandal, Democrats and Republicans are moving swiftly to pass legislation to fix the problems at the department. In their haste, though, policymakers have crafted a bill that would do more harm than good—and it comes with a hefty price tag. . . . The bills have not received much attention this week, but that could change: the Congressional Budget Office reported that allowing certain veterans to seek care at non-VA facilities would cost $35 billion over the two-year program, as The New Republic’s Brian Beutler predicted. If made permanent, CBO estimates it could cost $50 billion a year. For comparison, the VA currently spends $44 billion a year on its health care system. CBO notes that its estimate is preliminary, but it still is much higher than the expected cost. And this is only for the partial privatization part of the bill. While the potential for a new $50 billion a year program is worrisome, the bill would not even address the underlying problems at the VA. The New Republic

VA: Virginia investigating VDOT outsourcing contract. Watchdog learned this week that VDOT’s contract with Serco Inc. has come under fire from agency workers, who allege tax dollars are being squandered. The Serco contract, which handed over various VDOT functions to the Reston, Va.-based firm, was advertised last year as “net-neutral,” meaning the state would pay neither more nor less than it had previously. Though details of the Virginia investigation remain under wraps, Serco has encountered criticism elsewhere. . . . In 2012, independent researchers concluded Serco’s operation of British pathology labs led to a decline in the quality of services, including medical errors, according to news reports. Closer to home, the Georgia Department of Transportation canceled its $21 million contract with Serco after discovering a GDOT employee who helped approve the pact had secretly done side work for the company. Virginia Press Association executive director Ginger Stanley said the Inspector General’s decision to withhold the VDOT complaints is discretionary.  Watchdog.org

CA: Grand jury: Mentally ill not getting crisis care in Mendocino County. Crisis care is lacking for Mendocino County’s most severely mentally ill because of a poorly-worded contract drafted when the county privatized its mental health services, according to the Mendocino County grand jury. . . . [A]ccording to a report the grand jury recently released, “The imprecise language and provisions included in the contract for privatization results in ineffective services for clients who are diagnosed as Level 3, the most severely impaired.” The grand jury’s report, titled, “Privatization of Mental Health Delivery Services,” found “a serious oversight in the preparation of the contract.” According to the report, “The clients most in need of mental health assistance were specifically excluded from the language of the contract.” . . . The grand jury fielded several complaints that “mental health clients were confused when they went to the access centers and did not receive the service they were expecting,” the grand jury stated. Staff at the centers “did not know where to refer the clients during the transition, according to the complaints. “As of the close of this investigation, this still appears to be the case,” according to the report.  Ukiah Daily Journal

TX: Firm Proposes Building Private Toll Road Near Dallas. In an area northeast of Dallas, a company hopes to build a road unlike any other in Texas. The Texas Turnpike Corporation has proposed a toll road connecting Greenville and Wylie. The Dallas-based firm hopes to buy the land and build and operate the toll road itself. It would be the only entirely private toll road in the state and one of the only such highways in the country. Local transportation officials are keeping an open mind. “This would be a private-sector company that would 100 percent finance the project,” said Tom Shelton, a senior program manager with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which coordinates the region’s transportation planning. “As a result, they would take 100 percent of the risk, and they would take 100 percent of the benefits.”  Texas Tribune