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Roundtable: VA Choice Problems, Hotel Boycott, UCSD Funding Struggle

Roundtable: VA Choice Problems, Hotel Boycott, UCSD Funding Struggle
Roundtable: VA Choice Problems, Hotel Boycott, UCSD Funding Struggle
Veterans Choice, Hotel Boycott, UC FundraisingHOST: Mark SauerGUESTS:Steve Walsh, KPBS News Roger Showley, San Diego Union-Tribune Gary Robbins, San Diego Union-Tribune

On today's Roundtable the $10 billion choice program stumbles from the gate. What is behind a hotel boycott behind Chargers fan. Some of the best features heard on KPBS this week including why voter turnout is so high in rural counting. A look at UCSD push to move its athletic programs up to Division I. I am Mark Sauer, Midday Edition. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories, I am Mark Sauer. Joining me reporter Steve Walsh, PBS news. Roger Shelley, San Diego Union Tribune. And Gary Robbins, science and technology for the union Tribune here at lie do are here today. Shocking stories of veterans dying while waiting for care from the VA that Congress act that program was authorized in 2014, to quickly it turns out. Congress gave the the a $10 million to allow veterans to find doctors outside the VA system and 90 days to set it all out. So for the results of been disheartening to say the least. Here is maybe that talking about her experience with the veterans choice. This is February 23 for an appointment scheduled March 23. January, it am considering suicide because I am in so much pain. I'm asking for relief the choice program is give me an appointment in March. So, a long wait time. What was the rush? Why did Congress have to hustle this together? If you talk to members of Congress, they were facing a crisis. You had the VA being accused of keeping secret wait times, concealing country it's up thousands of veterans who are waiting gone long lines for appointments. They felt they had to act, to something very quickly. Simply have actually died. They felt that they have moved Congress itself. You think of the notion of the lack of bipartisan, and action in Congress. Not on this one. Sweeping majorities in the House and Senate how you have Republicans like Jeff Miller, Democrats like Ernie Sanders call working to craft a piece of legislation. The first piece of legislation is by the beginning of June to August 7. Pres. Obama is signing this in the law, giving the VA 90 days to come up with the program. We do have a bite from Congressman Jeff Miller. Why set up so quickly? If you do not think given the crisis that has erupted, in 2014, was the appropriate time to stand up a program like choice, I don't know when you find a better time. Okay. Do you think it was realistic about how you can actually launch a massive program like this and 90 days? They felt they did not have any choice. We talk to Congress in Miller. He said the VA was doing a lot of this stuff and sending people to outside doctors. This is not the first time they have done something like this. What they have not done it on quite the scale. Everybody who is 40 miles away from a medical facility, they were then allowed to become outside to an outside doctor. There were a lot of balls in the air when this thing started. The outsource. The VA was not going to do this internally and hire more people to do so, they had to find companies who may be able to do so or at there are first decision was that they cannot do as they don't have resources, cannot do it quickly enough. So they try to outside companies. I try to beat it out essentially. Industry invited 57 different companies, well point. Almost everybody had come back and said, no, we can't do it here at took one look and ran the other way. So who is running veterans choice? This is where I first encountered this story. I headed the TriWest when they were opening up a call center. I did not realize up until that point, that they have been formed out to these two companies. HealthNet TriWest. Trying to do something very similar, PC three. They just started it aired months into it. Maybe one year into the program by the time veterans trace had come along. They were already problems with the program. They were having many of the same thing, long wait times, not enough doctors. The a scrambling to get other doctors to sign over patients. Having them on their wait list. In the end, the VA decided these are the only two companies that are prepared to take it, so they handed to them. The music stopped for them. We have one more. Mac McGuire of TriWest and trying to meet the expectations. You expect is to build networks and have all these processes in place, all these contexts and is being able to do all these things. At a very abbreviated schedule. A lot of people went, are you crazy?. World we crazy? In hindsight yes. But we feel like we are to the challenge. We want to be given an opportunity to show that it is getting better and that it is working very so far it is a struggle. C I don't understand what is so complicated. You make appointments and set them up aired they have thousands of people manning the phones. The VA has a lot of people. I don't get a sense of understanding why the system is so broken. Frankly, it is. It's incredibly Congress -- complicated. Designed to serve veterans directly. You come in and see their doctors and start warming out to the community. You create a whole another later prophecy. Now they are looking to be formed this choice act, they are looking at taking some of this fall back into the VA. So, you may have all contractor like TriWest, creating the doctor network, but you have a doctor or a nurse at the be a setting up the appointments, working directly with the outside doctor. So there will be a continuity of care or at remember when Obama care had started, having problems with people starting out. The administration set up a SWAT team. Delivered speech, and grabbing a lot of people from a lot of different disciplines. And brought them in. Less than 90 days. Is there now way for the administration to create some type of SWAT team that is beyond this healthcare? To bring in, expert, who were used to working very rapidly? They have had 18 months or so to do this. The VA says they are on and that that have a lot of new people. The are looking at revamping the look. Congress is getting back in the game again. In fact, there were at random speeds, trying to improve, and then expand veterans choice to all community care that the be a has. I don't think we have mentioned this yet, but it's a joint investigation that we do with National Public Radio within NPR. And appearing over the last seven days. We have had the head of the VA Health Ctr., Doctor show can, acknowledging many of those concerns. It seems like the effort in Congress is slowing somewhat. To give them rather rushing through a set. To extend veterans choice another year, and give them another year to work some of these issues through. Some issues involve the VA being behind, processing paperwork. Hundreds of thousands of claims behind. Processing just their normal claims.; Has to be done to make the system work. The be a is enormous. How is it working in San Diego? Amanda is obviously from San Diego. And we still have long wait times in some areas. Here especially in mental health. And in those areas. So in the end, when you look at veterans choice at a national level, it's hard to get the full statistics. Bottom line, there are more veterans right now, waiting more than 30 days for a BA appointment been or waiting before the program began. And that's the bottom line effect right there. Obviously, what to do. Before we leave this segment, for many years, we all as urged to support troops. Why is America so ready to go to work, in the Middle East, and the last decades, but we prepare unprepared to handle casualties? You have a crisis in war, you have a crisis, long wait times, people act very quickly, but it takes dating of these issues for a long period of time. People tend to take their eye off the ball. Two it's a crisis. And the nature of their problems is more complicated than it used to be? Certainly, but we are talking about, is the crisis that generates the wait time or not the returning combat veterans. Relatively few people are in the military now compared to what there were traditionally. The crisis is the number of Vietnam veterans that are aging at this point in have a lot of complex issues. A bubble in an increase in the a care and that will start to slow down over time. How can we handle this influx now asked to rebuild bigger VA hospitals what's to reform it out to doctors? This is the issue for the country right now. Okay, we will move on and we will have more reporting. Two cement two groups open to keep the Chargers in San Diego or boycotting certain hotels. San Diego Stadium coalition claimed three hotel owners are working behind the scenes to block the Chargers plan to build a $1.8 billion Stadium/convention center expansion. And accomplish will be downtown. And vocal funding will come from a big hike in occupancy hotels. Start the boycott lacks why do they say they need to do so next these are two band groups. They have a big social media outreach to bands in San Diego aired and then linked to fan groups all over the country. They are annoyed that the hotel industry has not come on board with the convention center/Stadium concept center. And they are blaming these three companies for dragging their feet. Not supporting it. And, they want to call them out and say, don't go to their hotels, and maybe they will come back on board. Give us some of the big names that people would recognize. Evans hotels, the Lodge at Torrey Pines are the most prominent aired Bill Evans has been very active in the hotel business. Big names in the hotel business. The Town & Country, Terry Brown heads that company. In mission Valley for 60 years angst to the unit Tribune. They are blamed for donating to campaign contributions to people in office. Kevin Faulkner. They are also blaming them for steering money toward the politicians. Politicians are not taking a strong support for the project. I don't know, boycotts usually don't work. In this case, it's a volunteer effort. Not backed by anybody's finances. I did as the charges if they are for your they said they knew about it but they have not taken a position. The hotel people, they will not discuss it. They will not call back. Spokesman said we are studying. What you think? We have nothing further to say. If we say nothing, it will go away. This post campaign against the Chargers plan, of course, getting petitions in getting on the ballot to vote for this tax in November. On November's ballot. I have not seen anything of it hurt I watch the news and it do not see it. Is it a stealth campaign? I am so thrilled not to be writing stories about the Chargers. As is the same thing over and over again. Basically two campaigns, trying to collect 67,000 signatures one for the high the charger and Corey Briggs group. Their famous lawyer has been involved in these things are at two separate initiatives for the ballot. Signature gatherers are out there by the grocery stores. And they are getting paid like $12 per signature there at minimum wage -- more than. It may be a full-time job for these folks. I guess it is okay that they are doing this. I wonder in November, with the presidential campaign and state items on the ballot aired tax increase for ensure structure in San Diego. A lot of stuff. Marijuana will probably be in the ballot. When in doubt, both know. That's the fallback position. Competing measures. And we should say in terms of campaigns, none of this will start until these get qualified for the ballot aired and then you will see money and groups behind, billboards and flyers. Billboards. The big question to Mabel the charges beyond a winning streak in the fall? This is a November election. Like the Padres in 1998. Right after the World Series. In this case the Chargers did not do well last July this year. And that will figure into the boat's attitude. Two lets get back, you mentioned Mayor Faulkner, is to stand on the Chargers downtown convadium? We don't like that word. Cement this Stadium convention center. What is he saying about it? That of the city Council members or Board of Supervisors, or any local official has come out in favor of this project. Or the mayor. Particular ham. Cement has the project been announced weeks ago? Would've these folks waiting for? They are waiting for the June 7 election. Once that's done they can take a position here at want to see what happens within the result. Mayor Faulkner can win outright in June. Right. It's very complicated. Both measures are very difficult to understand if you read the ballot language. 108 pages. And I wonder how many people just say I love the Chargers. Vote yes. Vote no. Or something aired what do think? We all residents and voters. I got the ballot in the mail the other day. And it's sizable. I will not read my way through it. And that is just June. November used to be bigger. Two I don't see the language as it difficult to understand as well. Making a pitch by a particular group will be hard. And it may frustrate more than anything. Steve, I don't know. I am from the Midwest and I am new to the initiative process. Covering it is an election. How do you know whether there is enough excitement? As I am not sure, I am seeing a lot of excitement at there are two of them. It's a two-stage thing. As they get to get qualified. And then they shifted to campaign mode. As we say, if they both qualified then it gets trickery. Usually there is a long process. Having a commission or task force dealing with it. A lot of public meetings going forward. And then filing, the voting comes out and coalition of supporters. And that is what happened in pinko. The team itself, took it upon himself to write the rules, raise the money, spend the money to put on the ballot. And presumably, finance the campaign in the fall. It's reversed as to what usually happens on these things. Voters will have to do so. It may boil down to that. The really the question on both ends. Do we need to thirds of April or simple majority? Which will get all tangled up in the galaxies as well. California's progressive 1910 reforms. And we get every time. Welcome to California. We will move from the segment. There will be a lot more to come. Maxima of progressive role to raise private donations within the next decade. UC San Diego is set out to do. That raised by other notable universities, even in the UC system. Spec Harry start with the fundraising campaign. Was the University planning to do with this money X that is part of the problem as they are not being clear as with the money will be razed for. It surfaced around one month ago when it is announced that the tea fundraiser only to days into the job, had left or something else happened. Handpicked by the Chancellor to run campaign. Suddenly gone and no one talking. Speak a look at more closely as to ask, when did the campaign start, and when is it supposed and? How long will it be Lex what would your priorities Lex and initially, got very little information. On the got conflicting information aired people were very to talk about the campaign at the University says it's essential to the future. And its ability to add handled the intense growth or two I finally got it chance to talk to him. And it's a 10 year campaign. It will roughly in five years from now. Those are longer than most campaigns. Still, a lot of loose ends. University is not being precise about what it needs money for part which can be a problem. If you say you need to build dollars and you are struggling to say exactly what you need it for, and that may make it more difficult to put your hand out at absolutely. They would like to get more students,. They will get more students whether they like it or not there at they have added 8000 students in less than 10 years at UC San Diego. Two and they will add another 6000 within the next five years. Already, today, there is a waiting list of the thousand students for housing aired they have $300 million and immediate needs for classrooms and laboratories. Hundreds of millions of dollars more that they need for buildings and to flush things out. So they have real big needs. They don't have enough money to move forward. And unclear how they will fund raise procedure will go forth at I am a UCSD graduate. And I know this. I manage them all the time. I think the issue that you have poured up, in the sense of other universities, the alumni and support is not strong or widespread as it is or as it should be there it's back that's interesting. There are plenty. They have gone through and made millions of dollars in Baptist companies and professors. So there are plenty of note alumni, if they can. Spent this is why the University made a strategic mistake. They emitted they essentially in ignored alumni and for most of their existence as they put the state will provide the money they needed her two that is a bad strategy to begin with. They will always need money, and you need do alumni to be a part of your university as it is a family. You want to help people get jobs. They donate back to you. Two and the cuts and state funding occurred over 15 year period. Time to react to all of these forces, but they did not. Right now they do not know how many of their alumni are, they don't know what they need. Consequently, they get roughly 45% from their alumni in their overall fund-raising. Nationally about the averages 25%. They are having this god awful problem. And there is a bigger problem on top, where they are not creating a traditional college experience. Two story is very interesting. How come? You see that campus, if you are not connected with the University car you have a reason our business out there. It's a beautiful campus. I was the Michigan state, in the middle of February, quite different from looking at the Pacific from UCSD. It is a big campus but they don't engage their students are try. Club sport of return dues to get them involved there it's been very little going on during this current campaign. Right now whether they should move Division I sports. The ministration has said very little. And this is something that has worked elsewhere. Some externs also complained that the University is journalistic toward them. There are frictions there. And sometimes it feels like the University has marginalized some students. Saying, there is an attitude, they are science or engineering kids and they will not be interested. But turn your head to UCLA cut to Berkeley, Stanford, which are assigned schools that are big. From the beginning, UCSD was funded as in science and engineering school. You CSA has a wide range of social and humanities programs. UCSD does as well. 40 or 60% of students are engineering majors. I remember as a student, people who are active in clubs, not science people. They were, history. I was a history major third unlike UCLA which is in the middle of -- Berkeley and California. It's up on the Mesa. Not far from La Jolla. But it is a loan there it's been the students call in island. Surrounded by housing that they cannot afford. Housing is at a premium. And that's causing part of the problem. Spec I don't agree with the think about engineering. There's a stereotype. Go to Caltech, since of school spirit there, extraordinary. There are engineers. They are known for other things. The rivalry between MIT and Caltech is something that creates a sense of stearate -- spirit. When talking about raising this type of money, of the issues that has come out, central to the presidential campaign. Is the cost of college. Student debt and loans. This make the experience cheaper for that student? Make it more friendly for the average student? All is all this going to be bigger amenities toward the ball. Two right now, the average, student coming out of San Diego has an average death $22,000. The average in California, stamper cup of they have a lot of money coming game. And is an issue. They want to waste money for scholarships. That figure, has been going up. We will watch for your reporting to see how they do it that campaign. We have a little time left copy for me and today, do want to note that UT, you work and I work for 27 years. Did something this week. They moved downtown. After decades of mission Valley. I was with you in the downtown Bureau. To me, a newspaper needs to know the hearts and the spirit of the public. And being in industrial or office park in suburbia, mission Valley or something like that. You walk outside the door and you do not see a single person worth talking to. Whereas if you walk outside our building downtown, every block, someone to talk to Army or follow our look at. So it is more stimulating to be in an urban center or at does anyone like it down there? I think that they do. I like it. Mike office, -- one part looks at the harbor, and the bridge. And the sun floods in. And I can see and feel the city here and that is so important at and of course got the UT was downtown many years ago. 103 years. We left in 1973, because it had outgrown the property on second and Broadway. And it made sense to have the printing plant and an office building, interstate. The only reason we move back, because of the company was sold. And the printing change to LA. No connection any longer between the office, the work or journalistic work, and the production there at downtown and the heart of the city, a mall. That's great news for everyone. I will get down and see my old colleagues in a week or two. And check it out. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to think my guest, Roger Shirley, Steve Walsh, and Gary Robbins of the union Tribune. Two a reminder all of the stories we discussed today are available on our website Z I am Mark Sauer, thank you for joining us today on the Roundtable.

Bad choice for veterans

In 2014, the public — and, of course, Congress — learned that returning veterans were waiting months, even years, to receive medical care through the Veterans Administration. Some died while waiting.

When we learned that some VA facilities were cooking the books to hide the lengthy wait times, a national scandal erupted — a scandal that Congress jumped in to fix.


In 2014, Congress said it would quickly create and order the implementation of the $10 billion Veterans Choice program, allowing vets to see doctors outside the system.

And by "quickly," Congress meant 90 days to come up with and roll out a plan to fix the problem.

The VA believed they could not set up such a program themselves within 90 days, so they turned to outside insurers TriWest and Health Net. They were in the beginning stages of launching a community-care program for the VA.

Ready or not, Veterans Choice was launched.

The program seems to have made things even worse. From the outset — the distribution of 9 million Veterans Choice Cards — the Choice program caused confusion and frustration among patients, providers and insurers. The program actually increased the numbers of veterans waiting over 30 days for care, and the VA incurred millions in interest payments due to late reimbursement of physicians.


The VA currently has a backlog of 453,000 in unprocessed claims. And Congress is still trying to figure out how to get veterans the care they need.

KPBS News: Veterans Choice Medical Program Troubled From The Start

Stadium backers launch hotel boycott

Chargers fan groups Save Our Bolts and the San Diego Stadium Coalition are calling for a national boycott against local hotels they say are thwarting efforts to build a downtown stadium-convention center complex.

The groups say they are acting independently of the Chargers to get hotel owners to “transparently discuss and negotiate” the downtown effort.

The website, created by George Mullen, identified some local officials who, he says, received campaign contributions from Evans Hotels, owner of the Lodge at Torrey Pines and others; the Town & Country Hotel; and Bartell Hotels, which owns eight properties, including Humphrey's and the Sheraton La Jolla.

Local hoteliers have not yet endorsed the Chargers plan for a downtown stadium-convention center complex.

The hotel boycott leaves several questions begging: How can hotel owners negotiate a downtown stadium? Will the boycott decrease bookings, or is this a publicity stunt? Will voters care in any case? Is there any evidence that bringing the hoteliers around will ensure passage of either of the two ballot measures: the Chargers Initiative or the Citizen’s Initiative?

San Diego Union-Tribune: Groups backing stadium launch boycott of hotels

UC San Diego's fundraising struggle

UC San Diego wants to add 6,000 students and a couple of new colleges in the next 10 years. The university figures that will cost about $2 billion.

That should be no problem. Last year Stanford raised $1.6 billion and UC San Francisco raised $609 million.

UC San Diego, however, lost its fundraising director, Steve Gamer, last month. As with all fundraisers, his mandate was to greatly increase giving.

UCSD is on track to raise just $190 million this year. Less than 5 percent of donations to the university last year came from alumni. The national average for alumni giving is 28 percent.

Chancellor Pradeep Khosla and other officials have admitted that the university has ignored its alums in fundraising, instead relying on the state, grants and a few major donors. But as state funding began to shrink in 2008, that formula didn't help the university keep current, let alone plan for the future.

UC San Diego now adds about 1,500 students a year and has a current student population of 34,000.

The surrounding La Jolla community, some students say, rolls up its sidewalks at 6 p.m., making UCSD the "University of California for the Socially Dead."

The university is now working on making the campus and surrounding community more vibrant and nurturing in hopes that its graduates will become a major source of funding.

San Diego Union Tribune: UCSD's $2B capital campaign off to a rough start