U.S. Senate passes $16.3 billion veterans health bill

By David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate late on Thursday overwhelmingly gave final congressional approval to a $16.3 billion plan to ease long healthcare delays at the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department, adding the bulk of the cost to the federal deficit. The 91-3 vote sends the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law just before Congress starts a five-week summer recess. The plan, which contains $10 billion in new emergency spending that is not offset by any budget savings, aims to clear months-long waiting lists for healthcare appointments at VA hospitals and clinics across the country. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a $35 billion cost through 2017, and the ultimate price tag depends on how many veterans opt for private care and how quickly the VA can build up its internal treatment capacity.

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