ROCKVILLE – As a Navy reservist and a medical doctor, Mark Plaster (R) is focusing his race for the third congressional district on veterans’ issues and health care.
That includes overhauling how former members of the military receive treatment at medical centers operated by the Veterans Administration.
Plaster faces fifth-term Rep. John Sarbanes (D) and Green Party nominee Nnabus Eze in the general election.
“My first pledge is to try to fix the VA and I think we need to offer our veterans health care that they can actually put their hands around and do something for them,” said Plaster. “The primary thing I’m trying to emphasize is taking care of our veterans. That’s something near and dear to my heart.”
Plaster singled out the Veterans Choice Program as an area of health care that needs improvement.
The crux of the problem, he said, is even though veterans now have an option for using their federal benefits to seek care from a private practice doctor, there are a number of hurdles they must navigate in order to qualify, including meeting one of five criteria.
One of those is proving it would take at least 30 days for a VA facility to treat a patient before receiving a Choice Card. Plaster said he wants to streamline the process.
“They had to prove they couldn’t get into the VA,” said Plaster. “They had to wait a month to prove that they waited a month.”
On top of that, qualifying veterans would have to find a provider who accepted the Choice Card.
Instead, he said all veterans should have the option to receive health care “in the private health care system” with the government picking up the cost.
Plaster acknowledged fewer people requiring services at the VA could create potential problems for the program if certain facilities become under-used.
He added a more streamlined process would also “alleviate the burden of the VA system.”
“This is not a mandatory system. You might prefer the VA,” he said. “You can opt-out of the VA system and be seen in the private sector.”
More broadly on the subject of health care, Plaster said he would support Rep. Tom Price’s (R-Ga.) bill, the “Empowering Patients First Act,” which Price introduced in May 2015.
The bill is designed to repeal President Obama’s signature health care reform law of 2010 and replace it with a bill providing “refundable tax credits for health insurance coverage and health savings account (HSA) contributions.”
While the bill has 84 co-sponsors, all of whom are Republican, the bill has languished in several committees since last year, with no action taken on it since last November.
Plaster said he supports repealing the 2010 health care overhaul law supported by Sarbanes, though he said he likes the “expansion of funding for medical education” within the law.
The law includes a provision allowing parents to keep their children on their health insurance plans until age 26.
Plaster called the provision a “marriage penalty,” explaining that adults who marry before age 26 could not include their spouses on the same plan if they’re still on their parents’ plan.
“There is no reason to reward someone who stays at home and lives with their parents,” he added. “We actually subsidize that… Why penalize the person who makes the choice who goes out to get married?”
Plaster questioned whether the government should be “trying to engineer when you get married” and he said the government should not be involved in marriage at all.
“I would agree on that. I think that marriage is something between two people and that government shouldn’t be in the process so trying to engineer those relationships,” he said.
Among the federal marriage benefits is one under the Department of Veterans Affairs allowing the spouses of military veterans to be buried next to the veteran in the same national cemetery. Plaster said he wasn’t sure how removing the government from marriage would affect such arrangements.
“I would have to look at that as an individual case,” said Plaster.
Plaster said he would also like to focus on streamlining “the bureaucracy of procurement” within the military, noting the military “often pays three times” the value of something compared to its private sector cost.
He cited a conversation he had with a military member who said the government should be able to buy Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for $75,000 each instead of $250,000.
“I think that, again, it would probably start with a congressional study but often times, congressional studies are kind of an end themselves,” Plaster said, making the case for applying best “business practices” to military spending.
He said small businesses often don’t have the personnel or budget to hire people to shepherd companies through bidding processes for military contracts, creating an advantage for large companies who have the budgets for hiring such people familiar with the system.
“You have fewer competitors, you have big companies that are competing and you have small guys that don’t have the compliance,” he said, later adding, “I think that what they become really good at is navigating a lot of bureaucracy that doesn’t necessarily add to the value of the product they’re putting out.”