Advertise here
Advertise here

private

now browsing by tag

 
 

Shulkin urges emergency aid for VA private health care soon

In a fresh warning, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday there could potentially be delays in providing medical care to tens of thousands of veterans if lawmakers don’t act soon to approve billions in emergency funding for the ailing private-sector Choice program.

In a statement, Shulkin said he was heartened by several congressional bills that would provide longer-term fixes to the Department of Veterans Affairs program by giving veterans wider freedom to see private doctors at taxpayers’ expense. But pointing to the lack of a clear consensus so far, Shulkin made clear he would be “open” to emergency short-term funding from Congress for now “to ensure our veterans receive uninterrupted care.”

“As we have made clear for many months, Congress needs to pass a bill this year,” Shulkin said.

His statement comes as lawmakers wrestle over legislation that would overhaul Choice, amid the threat of a government shutdown over the federal budget and disagreements over cost and how much access veterans should have to private doctors.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week passed a $54 billion bipartisan plan over five years to revamp Choice, which provides $4 billion in emergency short-term funding for Choice and other VA programs for 2018 and also expands a popular caregivers program. But the measure faces some resistance from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Jerry Moran of Kansas, who are co-sponsoring a separate bill intended to give added access to private care “rather than relying on the VA bureaucracy to determine eligibility criteria.”

The House Veterans Affairs Committee, led by Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., meanwhile, has yet to reach agreement on how to pay for the $39 billion cost of its long-term proposal to revamp Choice. Republicans have proposed $2.1 billion in emergency short-term funding for Choice in a separate bill that would also establish a presidential commission to review VA facilities for possible closure, which is opposed by Democrats.

“At this time, the committee is working with the department to review the Choice account and determine when that account will need additional funding,” said Tiffany Haverly, Roe’s spokeswoman.

In September, the VA warned that Choice could run out of money sooner than expected in late December or early January, even after Congress approved $2.1 billion in emergency funding in August that was intended to last until February. Earlier this year, it began limiting referrals to outside doctors in July when money first began to run low and veterans reported delays in care.

The Choice program currently allows veterans to see private doctors if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or travel more than 40 miles to a VA facility. President Donald Trump has pledged to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice,” raising concerns among major veterans’ groups about “privatization” of VA care.

More than 30 percent of VA appointments are currently made in the private sector.

———

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1

Restore Win10 Private Network Status

In the wake of last month’s Fall Creators Upgrade, aka Windows 10 Version 1709, some glitches have popped up. Today’s reported item is minor and easy to fix, but could be vexing nontheless. That’s why I hope my readers can benefit from what I recently re-learned. That is, a Windows 10 upgrade will occasionally reset one’s network status from Private to Public. This locks down access and sharing, and basically turns Remote Access off. That’s why some readers may find they want to restore Win10 Private Network status after performing the upgrade. RDP is handy stuff, especially when it comes to having your fingers and the network do the walking, rather than having to sit down in front of some specific PC.

How-to: Restore Win10 Private Network Status

You can check, and if necessary, restore Win10 Private network status in Settings. The click sequence runs like this:

Settings →
Network Internet (Click “Change connection properties) →
Network profile (Check the Public/Private radio buttons; if Public is selected, click Private intead).

899da_reg_wrapper_curl Restore Win10 Private Network Status

If Public is selected, Win10 amps up network security, which basically disables RDP and remote access/asssistance.

Another trick that works is to fire up the homegroup utility (but that’s irrelevant in most workplaces because they use domain-based security anyway). As its first step it automatically changes the network profile from public to private, if it finds public enabled.

Why Did This Unwanted Behavior Resurrect?

I saw this network status change issue pop up quite a bit in Windows Insider releases while transitioning from Version 1607 to version 1703, and intermittently in even earlier phases of that beta test program. What I don’t understand is why this behavior popped back up for a product release to 1709. MS had this one fixed for at least 4 or 5 months before this Fall Creators Update appeared. Why then, did it show up in the production release of the selfsame OS? Another Windows administrivia question for the ages, I guess!

VA’s quiet plan to widen private care with TRICARE stirs ire

As part of its effort to expand private health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs is exploring the possibility of merging its health system with the Pentagon’s, a cost-saving measure that veterans groups say could threaten the viability of VA hospitals and clinics.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour called the plan a potential “game-changer” that would “provide better care for veterans at a lower cost to taxpayers,” but he provided no specific details.

Griffin Anderson, a spokesman for the Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the proposal — developed without input from Congress — would amount to a merger of the VA’s Choice and the military’s TRICARE private health care programs. Committee Democrats independently confirmed the discussions involved TRICARE.

News of the plan stirred alarm from veterans groups, who said they had not been consulted, even as VA urges a long-term legislative fix for Choice by year’s end.

Health care experts also expressed surprise that VA would consider a TRICARE merger to provide private care for millions of active-duty troops, military retirees and veterans. The two departments generally serve very different patient groups —older, sicker veterans treated by VA and generally healthier service members, retirees and their families covered by TRICARE.

TRICARE is insurance that is paid by the government, but uses private doctors and hospitals. The VA provides most of its care via medical centers and clinics owned and run by the federal government, though veterans can also see private doctors through VA’s Choice program with referrals by VA if appointments aren’t readily available.

“My overarching concern is these are very dramatic changes in the way health care is delivered to veterans,” said Carrie Farmer, a senior policy researcher on military care at Rand Corp., who has conducted wide-ranging research for VA. “There haven’t been studies on what the consequences are in terms of both costs and quality of care.”

Navy Commander Sarah Higgins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, confirmed it was exploring with VA “many possible opportunities to strengthen and streamline the health of our service members and veterans.” She declined to comment on specifics “unless and until there is something to announce.”

In its statement to The Associated Press, Cashour explained that VA Secretary David Shulkin was working with the White House and the Pentagon to explore “the general concept” of integrating VA and Pentagon health care, building upon an already planned merger of electronic health care records between VA and the Pentagon. Because Shulkin has said an overhaul of VA’s electronic medical records won’t be completed for another seven to eight years, an effort such as a TRICARE merger couldn’t likely happen before then.

“This is part of the president’s efforts to transform how government works and is precisely the type of businesslike, commonsense approach that rarely exists in Washington,” Cashour said.

At least four of the nation’s largest veterans’ organizations — The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans — called a TRICARE merger a likely “non-starter” if it sought to transform VA care into an insurance plan.

“VA is a health care provider and the VFW would oppose any effort to erode the system specifically created to serve the health care needs of our nation’s veterans by reducing VA’s role to a payer of care for veterans,” said Bob Wallace, executive director of VFW’s Washington office.

Louis Celli, director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for The American Legion, said any attempts to outsource services away from VA medical centers and clinics would be financially unsustainable and likely shift costs unfairly onto veterans with service-connected disabilities.

He noted something similar occurred with TRICARE — military retirees were promised free care from military base hospitals. But then TRICARE began offering insurance to use private-sector care and TRICARE beneficiary co-pays are now rising. “The precedent the TRICARE model sets is not something we would accept on the VA side,” Celli said.

During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump pledged to fix VA by expanding access to private doctors. In July, he promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.” More than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.

Some groups have drawn political battle lines, with the left-leaning VoteVets and the American Federation of Government Employees warning of privatization and Concerned Veterans for America, backed by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers, pledging a well-funded campaign to give veterans wide freedom to see private doctors.

Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the quiet discussions to integrate TRICARE with VA’s Choice were evidence “the White House was taking steps to force unprecedented numbers of veterans into the private sector for their care.”

“The fact that the Trump administration has been having these secret conversations behind the backs of Congress and our nation’s veterans is absolutely unacceptable,” said Walz, the highest-ranking enlisted service member to serve in Congress. He called for an immediate public explanation “without delay.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the House committee, said he planned to continue proceeding with his bipartisan legislative plan to fix Choice without integrating TRICARE.

———

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1

Quantum Computers Could Jack Your Crypto Private Key in 10 …

Quantum computers are coming and encryption – including the kind used to underpin cryptocurrencies – is in trouble, researchers say.

That’s according to researchers at the National University of Singapore and colleagues who have estimated how soon the computers might be able to break bitcoin’s security. Based on the most aggressive estimates for the advancement of quantum computation, private keys might be cracked as early as 2027, their paper says.

Bitcoin encryption today is ensured by the difficulty of cracking its code using existing computers, but quantum computers will theoretically be able to work much faster because they are not constrained to working with bits (values that are either 0 or 1). Quantum computers use qubits, which take advantage of the very strange ways subatomic particles behave to contain more values (or even two values at once).

As first reported by the MIT Technology Review, the researchers investigated quantum computers’ application against both mining pools and using the machines to attacks private keys. Miners will be safe for longer than wallets, the researchers contend.

Rewriting transactions

The greatest danger for bitcoin users will come when transactions have been broadcast to the network but not yet processed, according to the paper.

An attacker with a quantum computer is likely to be able to change the transaction before the legitimate one goes through, the researchers found.

Settled transactions will remain safe, at least for a while. Even a paradigm-shifting computer is unlikely to be able to change the ledger after several blocks have been processed.

If private keys are compromised, that’s not just bad news for cryptocurrency. It would expose anything else that uses public-private key encryption, such as messaging apps, SSL certificates and data storage.

Glint of hope

As the researchers acknowledge, this finding holds true provided nothing changes in the way private keys are created. They write:

“Many presumably quantum-safe public-key signature schemes have been proposed in the literature.”

However, their discussion neither completely endorses nor dismisses any of the proposals.

This summer, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania also proposed ways in which more robust private keys could stymie these new machines. And, as has been argued, quantum computers might also develop much more slowly than the researchers have modeled.

Tesla coil image via Shutterstock.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

Private: The Internet Is Loving Taylor Swift’s New Album Reputation

Taylor Swift’s new album Reputation is here and the Internet can finally let out all of its emotions.

Swift dropped the 15-track offering at midnight on Friday, sending her fans into a near-immediate frenzy of analyzing lyrics and digging for references in new songs such as “I Did Something Bad,” “Dancing with Our Hands Tied” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”

Leading up to the release, some Swifties were so excited it seemed like they may not even be able to make it to midnight. “GOOD FREAKING MORNING Y’ALL REPUTATION COMES OUT TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT LITERALLY HOW IS THIS REAL WE HAVE WAITED 3 YEARS FOR THIS ” wrote one particularly hyped Twitter user—and yes, in those block capitals.

But many fans were also thrown into a frenzy when the full, highly-anticipated album was leaked online 12 hours before the official release. Faced with the tantalizing quandary — to listen, or not listen — many Swifties took to Twitter.

Read some of the reactions to Reputation and its leak below.

https://twitter.com/aly_carp/status/928734134758969350

—With reporting by Laignee Barron/Hong Kong

Quantum Computers Could Jack Your Crypto Private Key in 10 Years, Researchers Say

Quantum computers are coming and encryption – including the kind used to underpin cryptocurrencies – is in trouble, researchers say.

That’s according to researchers at the National University of Singapore and colleagues who have estimated how soon the computers might be able to break bitcoin’s security. Based on the most aggressive estimates for the advancement of quantum computation, private keys might be cracked as early as 2027, their paper says.

Bitcoin encryption today is ensured by the difficulty of cracking its code using existing computers, but quantum computers will theoretically be able to work much faster because they are not constrained to working with bits (values that are either 0 or 1). Quantum computers use qubits, which take advantage of the very strange ways subatomic particles behave to contain more values (or even two values at once).

As first reported by the MIT Technology Review, the researchers investigated quantum computers’ application against both mining pools and using the machines to attacks private keys. Miners will be safe for longer than wallets, the researchers contend.

Rewriting transactions

The greatest danger for bitcoin users will come when transactions have been broadcast to the network but not yet processed, according to the paper.

An attacker with a quantum computer is likely to be able to change the transaction before the legitimate one goes through, the researchers found.

Settled transactions will remain safe, at least for a while. Even a paradigm-shifting computer is unlikely to be able to change the ledger after several blocks have been processed.

If private keys are compromised, that’s not just bad news for cryptocurrency. It would expose anything else that uses public-private key encryption, such as messaging apps, SSL certificates and data storage.

Glint of hope

As the researchers acknowledge, this finding holds true provided nothing changes in the way private keys are created. They write:

“Many presumably quantum-safe public-key signature schemes have been proposed in the literature.”

However, their discussion neither completely endorses nor dismisses any of the proposals.

This summer, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania also proposed ways in which more robust private keys could stymie these new machines. And, as has been argued, quantum computers might also develop much more slowly than the researchers have modeled.

Tesla coil image via Shutterstock.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

A private sector cure for health care – Beckley Register

If you’re tired of the dysfunction in Washington – the backbiting, the questioning of motives, the failure to agree on much of anything, the one-upmanship, the allegations about a “stolen” presidential election, Russian “collusion,” the posturing and boorish behavior, how about focusing on something that is working and benefits a growing number of people?

Consider a company called Teladoc, which provides access to a doctor through a computer screen, telephone, or mobile app. The waiting time, a company official tells me, is between eight and 10 minutes. That beats any doctor’s office I have ever been in, even with an appointment. The company claims a 95 percent satisfaction rate with 92 percent of issues resolved after the first visit.

Here’s how it works. Say your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever, or some other health issue. You go to your computer, phone or mobile app and describe the symptoms to the doctor, who then prescribes treatment. It can be in the form of a prescription or, if the symptoms seem more serious, the doctor will recommend a specialist, or a trip to the hospital. The doctor has previously been provided your family’s medical history through the app.

Teladoc services are offered through a subscribing company’s insurance plan. The company currently serves 10,000 clients and 20 million members, according to a company spokeswoman. All physicians are board certified and licensed in their respective states. They are available any hour of the day or night and every day of the year. Is your doctor that accessible? Unless you live with one, probably not.

The cost? A low $40 to $45 per session.

Jason Gorevic, Teladoc’s CEO, tells me: “Consumers of health care are looking for a better way. Regardless of the political environment, there is a growing demand for a better way to provide medical services to individuals.”

Gorevic says Teladoc is especially helpful to people living in rural areas where a doctor is not close by, or unavailable.

Reporting on this growing and popular trend in telemedicine, health care writer Bruce Japsen wrote in Forbes magazine: “Health plans see a way for patients to get high-quality care from a physician and the potential to avoid a more expensive trip to a hospital emergency room.” Teladoc executives also say they are seeing growth opportunities in mental health, dermatology and smoking cessation programs.

Japsen adds that the field of virtual medicine is growing about 10 percent per year with projections it will soon reach 26.9 million, which seems likely given the current spurt.

Gorevic sees increasing interest from health plans that contract with state Medicaid programs for poor Americans, as well as Medicare Advantage plans that provide benefits to seniors. This could save time and money by reducing trips to emergency rooms for less serious ailments.

Let’s review: A health plan that bypasses government bureaucracy; rapid access to a doctor who knows a family’s medical history; prompt treatment, or quick referral; low cost – what’s not to like?

It is another example of how the private sector, when it is allowed to innovate and flourish, outshines the federal government almost every time.

Virtual medicine, led by companies like Teladoc, is not the wave of the future, but of the present.

If you’re unhappy with increasingly expensive, impersonal and slow access to medical care – and some liberal politicians are already pushing for single-payer, which would likely make waiting times longer and lower the quality of treatment – you might feel a lot better, while saving money and time, by going virtual.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

© 2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Investigation: Contact 5 finds private, personal information on used computers

When getting rid of your old electronics like cellphones and computers, whether selling them, or throwing them away, do you think twice about the private data you’re leaving behind? 

A Contact 5 investigation found many of you, even government agencies and computer experts themselves are not.

Contact 5 went fishing for personal information with Alan Crowetz of Infostream. “These days when it comes to hackers and the bad guys, information is power,” said Crowetz. 

It’s information that’s sometimes left on computers their owners don’t want anymore, and end up selling. “Finding out social security numbers, finding passwords, finding financial information, that’s almost more valuable than money these days,” said Crowetz.  “This is a great source to find information that people don’t think twice about disposing of.”
 
WHAT ARE HACKERS LOOKING FOR?

Contact 5 used popular sites like Craigslist and Ebay for our search, while Crowetz told us what exactly the hackers and bad guys would be looking for in the perfect computer. We did this, so we could tell you how to protect yourself when selling. 

“For me, I want to find things that are older. Those are much more likely to be a target because it’s less likely to be a computer knowledgeable person and the older they are, the more data that’s on there,” said Crowetz. 
 
Crowetz says bad guys will also be looking at what version of Windows is on a computer. Crowetz says when someone wipes a computer clean before selling, they usually re-load the newer versions of Windows back on it, to make it more desirable. If the computer you’re looking to buy has an older version of Windows, it may mean the person never wiped the computer in the first place. 
 
“If they say 5 or 6 years old, they’ve probably wiped and reloaded it. But if they say it’s only 3-4 years old, you know there’s a decent chance this is the original, they have not done anything,” says Crowetz.

So watch out if someone starts asking about what version of Windows you use, “there’s usually ulterior motives,” said Crowetz. “If I am a hacker, I am going to take the time to ask questions.”

Be clear, in your advertisements, that you wiped the computer and re-loaded it before selling it, advises Crowetz. 

“Most of the time, the right way to wipe a computer takes hours and people are not willing to do that, even when someone has erased and reformatted their computer, they can pull that data out really easily.”

Or if you work in computers, write it down as well. “Here’s a good example here. I am a computer technician. Already I’m not interested,” said Crowetz while shopping on Ebay.

Laptops are also more convenient to hack, according to Crowetz. “A lot of times you can grab passwords off laptops.”
 
And even if your computer doesn’t turn on, that doesn’t mean the data is gone. “What they don’t realize is that even if the computer doesn’t work, the hard drive still does. I can still take that hard drive out and look at the data. So that’s a good sign, there’s a chance they didn’t wipe this computer,” Crowetz told us about one advertisement. 

WHAT WE FOUND 
 
Contact 5 bought 4 computers. One from Craigslist, two HP computer towers from the Palm Springs Police Department and one from Ebay. 

The laptop from Craigslist was securely wiped. The computer towers from the Palm Springs Police Department Crowetz said still had some data.

“I found it really surprising, those weren’t wiped at all. However they lucked out. They put special software on there, so you can’t tamper, you can’t save information, almost nothing on the computer. They didn’t erase it, which is still concerning to me, makes me wonder if they’re getting rid of other accounting computers, and not erasing the data,” said Crowetz.

Now for the 4th, belonging to the Erie family: “It is alarming. And I’m a guy who deals with security and stuff, I should be used to this kind of thing. But this is just so bad,” said Crowetz. 

We could see every website the 6 person family had used from 2005 to 2010, when the computer was used. There were millions of emails, pictures of the children.

There was also tax returns belonging to the children. “I can use social security numbers to open up credit cards, bank accounts. I have enough personal information on there, I can reset their passwords for their bank accounts,” said Crowetz. “It’s a pedophile’s perfect scenario, it’s identity theft perfect scenario.”

 An incredible return for a computer available to anyone for just $40. A computer that was also dead, but the hard drive still worked just fine. “I might as well be holding a 10,000 bill in my hand right now,” according to Crowetz. 

But not only did the Erie’s put themselves at risk, they also endangered thousands of others. Christine’s husband used the computer for work, he had personal information on more than 10,000 former or potential clients on the laptop.

“It’s a list of people who are looking for financial advice. You can’t even imagine how valuable that would be to a bad guy. In this case I know these people have money, because it shows their income, I have their email address, their phone number, that really gives me a great way to steal their identity or reach out to them to scam them. If I just ripped off 1% of these people I would be rolling in the dough,” Crowetz says. 
 
“I can sell this to another bad guy on the dark web who might buy this from me for a $1000. Instant return.”

We tracked down Christine Erie, one of the owners of the computer. She told us, “it didn’t work, hadn’t turned on in probably 5 years. Probably sitting in the closet for ten.”

She said she did put a magnet to the computer before giving it away, because she “had heard you could put a magnet up to it, and it would wipe everything. And we had a big round magnet and I tried that but I guess it didn’t work.” As we found, it didn’t.

Christine Erie called the entire situation, “scary.” 

“Thankfully you guys bought it,” Christine told Contact 5. 

WHAT TO DO WHEN SELLING OR DONATING AN OLD COMPUTER

Crowetz’s first piece of advice? It’s probably not worth it to even sell in the first place.

“Is it really worth 30, 40 dollars for the risk you’re taking to sell an old computer,” said Crowetz.

But if you do want to, here’s a couple things to think about.

1. Take the hard drive out, and destroy it.
2. DBAN.org: It’s a free program that scrubs data from a hard drive. 
3. Take your computer to an expert and have them wipe it. 

WHAT HACKERS LOOK FOR IN A USED COMPUTER:

Contact 5 finds private, personal information on used computers


You are using an outdated browser. Upgrade your browser today to better experience this site.




<!– layout: {uuid=2ff4d3b9-a431-4096-bee6-36ee183d00b6, plid=190073033, groupId=130949115, companyId=10155, createDate=null, modifiedDate=Tue Oct 24 18:32:14 GMT 2017, privateLayout=false, layoutId=23, parentLayoutId=0, name=Story, title=wptv.com, description=, keywords=, robots=, type=portlet, typeSettings=last-merge-time=1392671849281
show-alternate-links=true
layout-template-id=scripps_responsive_stickySidebar_v2
last-import-date=1508869933805
last-import-user-name=Alyssa Smith
merge-fail-count=0
sitemap-include=1
layoutUpdateable=true
last-import-user-uuid=61963876-f341-4018-9008-7f187953ca80
default-asset-publisher-portlet-id=101_INSTANCE_x4pdEQp5rX3n
sitemap-changefreq=daily
column-31=101_INSTANCE_x4pdEQp5rX3n,56_INSTANCE_Bj9pVKCvkyuB,56_INSTANCE_NJJNVHeBqo39,56_INSTANCE_pACSD4T2PIig,56_INSTANCE_j7eiW49sVpiZ,
column-51=56_INSTANCE_Aja1MNXEjnWr,56_INSTANCE_Ih7RSg1RpFnq,
column-42=56_INSTANCE_MmPqDqR9CUQg,
column-41=56_INSTANCE_NAhVjpu6sXTA,56_INSTANCE_yIN7yClOHC61,56_INSTANCE_wNfS1lQcVPAK
, hidden=true, friendlyURL=/story, iconImage=false, iconImageId=0, themeId=scrippsbase_WAR_spsbasetheme, colorSchemeId=, wapThemeId=scrippsbase_WAR_spsbasetheme, wapColorSchemeId=, css=, priority=23, layoutPrototypeUuid=f8127952-2068-4102-a0bc-8c200c4fda58, layoutPrototypeLinkEnabled=false, sourcePrototypeLayoutUuid=} –>

Data that can be used to take money from you





 Contact 5 finds private, personal information on used computers

 Contact 5 finds private, personal information on used computers

When getting rid of your old electronics, like cellphones and computers, whether selling them or throwing them away, do you think twice about the private data you’re leaving behind?

A Contact 5 investigation found many of you, even government agencies and those who work in the computer industry themselves, are not.

Contact 5 went fishing for personal information with Alan Crowetz of Infostream. “These days when it comes to hackers and the bad guys, information is power,” said Crowetz. “Finding out social security numbers, finding passwords, finding financial information, that’s almost more valuable than money these days.”

It’s information that’s sometimes left on computers their owners don’t want anymore.

“This is a great source to find information that people don’t think twice about disposing of,” said Crowetz.  

Contact 5 used sites like Craigslist and Ebay, and Florida auctions online.

While we searched, Crowetz told us exactly what the hackers and bad guys would be looking for in the perfect computer.

“For me, I want to find things that are older. Those are much more likely to be a target because it’s less likely to be a computer knowledgeable person and the older they are, the more data that’s on there,” said Crowetz.

To learn more about what the hackers are searching for online, and to see what we found on those computers we bought, something our expert called “awful and frightening,” tune in Monday at 5 PM.

There will also be tips on how to properly dispose of your private data, so you don’t get taken advantage of.

Print this article
Back to Top


Hong Kong health department orders checks on private clinics after some vaccines found to be stored in domestic …

Private clinics will face random inspections after some were reported to be using household refrigerators instead of medical-grade freezers to store vaccines, Hong Kong’s health director said on Monday.

The announcement came as the number of people getting flu jabs rose. That was despite fears the shot was ineffective because it was different from the one recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Drastic measure? Hong Kong health chief may suspend non-local children’s vaccines if city’s supplies run low

Using domestic refrigerators is not a direct violation but is against city guidelines, which urge the storage of vaccines in specific coolers, Director of Health Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee said.

“The relevant guidelines recommended it is best to use a medical-grade refrigerator, but some countries use domestic freezers for storage,” Chan said.

Officials from the Centre for Health Protection will do the checks.

Hong Kong health chief considers bringing flu vaccines to primary schools to fight virus

Chan dismissed suggestions that medical-grade refrigerators should be part of the centre’s regulations, citing rules from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that state the household storage units could be used for vaccines, provided the temperature is checked twice a day.

“The storage of vaccines is the responsibility of medical professionals, and their standards are supervised,” she said.

 Hong Kong health department orders checks on private clinics after some vaccines found to be stored in domestic ...

This month, about 50,000 people received the flu vaccine, nearly 8,000 more than the same month last year, Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the secretary for food and health, said.

The rise came despite the vaccine being designed to protect against a different flu strain than the one expected to be most prominent in the northern hemisphere, according to the WHO.

But local health officials stressed that most of the city’s flu vaccinations would probably still be effective, and there was no evidence that the global health watchdog’s proposed alternative would offer better protection.

“Flu virus activity remains rather low at the moment, but we expect Hong Kong will enter a winter peak for seasonal influenza early next year. The best way to prevent an infection is to get a jab against the flu virus,” Sophia Chan said.

Probe in Hong Kong over expired flu vaccines for patients

Last month, the WHO changed its recommended vaccine type. The so-called Singapore strain of the vaccine was said to be “slightly better” than the 460,000 doses of vaccine already bought by Hong Kong.

Officials said the local shots would still offer some level of protection.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a top microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong, agreed that vaccines would be useful for vulnerable groups despite “uncertain” protection against the H3N2 virus.

The Medical Association, the largest doctors’ group, believed the vaccine could offer around 70 to 90 per cent protection against the flu virus, and a community outbreak could be prevented if 30 per cent of the population are vaccinated.

The group urged the government to offer subsidised vaccines to high-risk patients, including those with chronic diseases and pregnant women.

Tokenized Tor? A16z, DFJ and More Back Private Internet Project Orchid

Some of the most notable names in venture capital are backing the idea cryptocurrencies could one day power a truly private internet.

Announced today, Andreessen Horowitz, Blockchain Capital, Compound VC, Crunchfund and Danhua, along with Draper Fisher Jurvetson, MetaStable, Polychain Capital, Sequoia and Struck Capital are revealing a $4.7 million investment in a new startup called Orchid Labs Inc.

Equally impressive, apart from the investors, is the team behind the project, which boasts an array of both blockchain technology veterans and established entrepreneurs.

Co-founders include Steve Waterhouse, a long-time investor with blockchain-focused venture firm Pantera Capital, former Ethereum Foundation developer Gustav Simonsson, Stephen Bell, the founder of Trilogy VC China, and longtime Free Software staffer Brian Fox.

However, it’s the vision that perhaps most distinguishes the Orchid project, with Waterhouse going so far as to frame it as both a rejection of what he called Silicon Valley’s “sharing is caring” culture, and a way to restore internet freedoms that he views as being subverted by such business models.

Waterhouse told CoinDesk:

“This is about anti-surveillance and anti-censorship, the ability to not be tracked. We see this not just in China or the Middle East, but in this country, in states that are considered to be free. If you go back in history, there was a lot more concern about privacy on the internet before Facebook.”

For Waterhouse, though, the idea began with a rather personal wake-up call.

Following his departure from Pantera, he said he was seeking ideas in AI and enterprise software, exploring various ideas and inspirations; then, he was hacked and his information exposed.

“That really woke me up,” Waterhouse said. “I was more concerned about surveillance, the idea that we don’t have technologies to let people communicate without censorship.”

Investors such as Ryan Zurer, venture partner at Polychain Capital, struck a similar tone, suggesting an expansive use case that is global in scope.

“Users could be someone in Catalonia who can’t access their government websites or someone in the US who wants to make secure transactions without oversight,” he said.

Still, Waterhouse sees Orchid’s token working within these margins, going so far as to suggest large internet applications such as Facebook could eventually become users of the tech to anonymize their own traffic.

A new VPN

While a white paper for the project isn’t yet available, those close to the project described the code as a more mature offering in what has been a market defined by quick launches.

Still, the offering is not without similarities to the average ICO. For one, the orchid token (CHI) will be issued on the ethereum blockchain, and like projects such as Blockstack, it will be seeking to change internet behaviors.

However, unlike other decentralized internet attempts, Waterhouse said Orchid would offer software for the exit and routing nodes that form the network itself, marking a differentiator, in that the underlying infrastructure wouldn’t be altered.

In practice, users wouls use the internet as they do today, but would exchange tokens with these nodes as a means of protecting their information from internet service providers (ISPs) and carriers, or providing it to an intermediary like a virtual private network (VPN).

The idea is users would purchase tokens from an exchange or earn them by dedicating available bandwidth toward running a node on the network, at which point they would be sent to a wallet application. When users wanted to hide or shield their activity, they could then spend tokens as part of their activities.

“You’re paying to access the relay nodes and [to] encrypt and anonymize the traffic, and all the way along the chain, the nodes are being paid,” he continued.

This doesn’t mean that ISPs and carriers wouldn’t see the traffic, according to Waterhouse, but that it would utilize techniques to make orchid protocol traffic indistinguishable from typical internet traffic.

Here, he said the startup will draw on advisors including Gavin Wood, founder and CTO at Parity Technologies, Stanford’s Dan Boneh, and Alex Lloyd, managing director of Accelerator Ventures.

Ultimately, though, he predicts the technology will be strong enough to prevent governments from compromising the network, hinting at fears that states have infiltrated the Tor network.

“China would be forced to shut down outside internet, or allow our system to work,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to tell the difference.”

Free riders

But ultimately, Waterhouse said, the orchid protocol will derive value from being flexible within the boundaries of the current internet.

For example, as opposed to restructuring it, as proposed by other decentralized technology enthusiasts, he described the protocol as a layer that would “sit on top of the internet.” This wouldn’t stop users from accepting cookies or engaging in voluntary behaviors that might indicate their information.

Looking ahead, however, it will be some time before users get to test out the software, now in alpha.

As Orchid raised the funds via a SAFT (Simple Agreement for Future Tokens), a legal tool created as a means of funding the future creation of tokens, the team is just now gearing up for a potential market sale. But, a beta launch is not expected until early 2018.

More set in stone are Orchid’s long-term revenue plans, which according to Waterhouse, won’t include seeking to extract payment from the protocol.

Ultimately, Waterhouse believes that Orchid will be best incentivized by ensuring the protocol’s long-term utility by holding a stake in its token supply, which would in turn also ease the end-user experience.

He concluded:

“That’s the model for the investors and the company, we hold tokens.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstack.

Glass globe image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as, and is not intended to provide, investment advice. Please conduct your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency.

VA touts private health care for vets but cost issues linger

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin touted an overhaul plan Tuesday to give veterans even wider access to outside doctors than under its troubled Choice health care program, stressing ties with the private sector even while acknowledging key questions of rising cost and sharing of medical records were still unresolved.

Testifying at a House hearing, Shulkin provided new details on the VA’s plan to permanently replace the Veterans Choice program. Acknowledging the program would run out of money sooner than expected, he urged Congress to act by year’s end to provide stopgap funding and loosen restrictions to ensure timely, quality treatment for veterans when unavailable at VA medical centers.

Veterans should get “more choice in the say of their care,” Shulkin told the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Nobody should feel trapped in the VA system.”

Still, faced with repeated questioning from lawmakers, Shulkin conceded that an upgraded VA information technology system needed to reduce delays and ensure a smooth sharing of medical records with outside doctors was still seven to eight years away and that the White House budget office also had yet to approve the costs of its proposal. Major veterans’ organizations generally oppose paying for Choice by reducing veterans’ disability benefits or with cuts to core VA health programs.

“This program will require offsets,” Shulkin said.

His remarks underscored significant change underway at the VA, drawing both praise and consternation after a 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center and big campaign promises from President Donald Trump to expand “choice” for veterans.

“Veterans’ health care should not be subjected to offsets or pay-fors, and the full burden of providing care for service-disabled veterans needs to be borne by the federal government,” said Roscoe Butler, a deputy director for The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group. He called the initial proposals a “great start” that needed adjustments to protect against erosion of VA medical centers.

Dubbed Veterans CARE, the VA proposal would eliminate Choice’s current restrictions that veterans can go outside the VA network only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility.

Veterans would get outside referrals based on “clinical need,” consulting with VA health providers about their medical problem. The health provider and patient would then jointly decide whether it was best to receive care within the VA or with a private doctor. A veteran could take into account the length of time waiting for a VA appointment, poor performance at the local VA hospital based on department ratings, or if the VA can’t provide the service.

Veterans also would be able to access walk-in clinics, such as MinuteClinics, to treat minor illnesses or injury — subject to some new copayments.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee led by Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., is crafting a separate proposal aimed at providing an integrated network of private and VA care. Generally, fewer restrictions for veterans to access private care would mean higher costs to VA.

“We still need to figure out how to pay for all these improvements — which will be no easy or pleasant feat for any of us,” Roe said.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by bringing accountability and expanding access to private doctors, criticizing the department as the “most corrupt.” In July, he promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.”

More than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.

Some groups are already drawing political battle lines, with the left-leaning VoteVets and the American Federation of Government Employees warning of privatization and Concerned Veterans for America, backed by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers, urging that veterans get almost unlimited freedom to see private doctors.

On Tuesday, major organizations including Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars stressed continued investment in the VA.

The American Legion also urged lawmakers to require a detailed financial accounting each year from VA on Choice, citing the department’s past problems in budget planning. Last month, the Associated Press reported that VA had acknowledged money for its Choice program could run out of money sooner than expected despite receiving $2.1 billion in emergency funding in August. Citing the AP report, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced bipartisan legislation that would require fuller VA justifications and third-party audit reviews when money falls short.

———

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1

Why The Private Internet Is Growing So Fast

If you’re not a fan of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, you’re missing one of the best pop culture takes on the tech world ever produced. Sure, it might not have fire-breathing dragons and zombie armies, and very few people watch it, but as a fictional representation of the historical origins of the computer and Internet world that we now all live in, it’s captivating.

In the show’s current and final season, they’re looking at the rise of the Internet as we know it today. And in the Internet’s origins is the conception of how we most commonly think about it today — as a massive public asset open for anyone and everyone to use. However, that view of the Internet as closer to a public utility, rather than a privately managed asset, is, in many ways, outdated.

Equinix

Tony Bishop, Vice President, Global Vertical Strategy Marketing at Equinix

When it comes down to how Internet traffic performs at high volumes, the public internet is just not reliable or secure enough for most enterprises, including content providers, to rely upon. When you pull up Game of Thrones on HBO GO or the latest season of House of Cards on Netflix, you expect the show to stream seamlessly on your iPad or tablet. But the reason this experience and functionality is possible is because of deliberate choices made by the providers. There’s no accident that HBO GO doesn’t crash during the Thrones season finale. Companies recognize their needs and plan for them. And those plans include significant investments in direct connections with other major providers. In fact, Netflix has relationships that allows them to have direct connections with all the cable and Internet providers so all their content streams without delay.

Direct connections that bypass the public Internet are called interconnections. Interconnections occur at massive hub-like data centers run by companies like Equinix. At these hubs, companies like Netflix directly connect with each other. Such connections are fast and secure and enable companies to deliver experiences like streaming to users.

Equinix has created a measure of how well companies are positioned to conduct online business called Interconnection Bandwidth. It’s basically the amount of resources companies have invested in the type of direct connections now empowering much of online commerce.

Interconnection Bandwidth is part of a new report Equinix published entitled, fittingly enough, “Global Interconnection Index: Measuring the Growth of the Global Digital Economy.” The report is the first examination of Interconnection Bandwidth across industries, and comprehensively portrays how important interconnection will be in the future.

My company, Evolved Media, worked with Equinix to help summarize the findings of the report, and the results are really stunning. The report makes a compelling case that Interconnection Bandwidth will be the foundation of any company’s ability to go through a successful process of digital transformation. One of the major conclusions of the report is that private connections are far outpacing public Internet growth. By 2020, the private internet will grow to include 5,000 Tbps of data. That’s twice the growth rate of global Internet traffic.

The report argues that interconnection’s importance is predicated on what it allows companies to do: namely, to scale at rates that are otherwise impossible, empowering the type of online enterprise growth we now all expect.

Why The Private Internet Is Growing So Fast

If you’re not a fan of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, you’re missing one of the best pop culture takes on the tech world ever produced. Sure, it might not have fire-breathing dragons and zombie armies, and very few people watch it, but as a fictional representation of the historical origins of the computer and Internet world that we now all live in, it’s captivating.

In the show’s current and final season, they’re looking at the rise of the Internet as we know it today. And in the Internet’s origins is the conception of how we most commonly think about it today — as a massive public asset open for anyone and everyone to use. However, that view of the Internet as closer to a public utility, rather than a privately managed asset, is, in many ways, outdated.

Equinix

Tony Bishop, Vice President, Global Vertical Strategy Marketing at Equinix

When it comes down to how Internet traffic performs at high volumes, the public internet is just not reliable or secure enough for most enterprises, including content providers, to rely upon. When you pull up Game of Thrones on HBO GO or the latest season of House of Cards on Netflix, you expect the show to stream seamlessly on your iPad or tablet. But the reason this experience and functionality is possible is because of deliberate choices made by the providers. There’s no accident that HBO GO doesn’t crash during the Thrones season finale. Companies recognize their needs and plan for them. And those plans include significant investments in direct connections with other major providers. In fact, Netflix has relationships that allows them to have direct connections with all the cable and Internet providers so all their content streams without delay.

Direct connections that bypass the public Internet are called interconnections. Interconnections occur at massive hub-like data centers run by companies like Equinix. At these hubs, companies like Netflix directly connect with each other. Such connections are fast and secure and enable companies to deliver experiences like streaming to users.

Equinix has created a measure of how well companies are positioned to conduct online business called Interconnection Bandwidth. It’s basically the amount of resources companies have invested in the type of direct connections now empowering much of online commerce.

Interconnection Bandwidth is part of a new report Equinix published entitled, fittingly enough, “Global Interconnection Index: Measuring the Growth of the Global Digital Economy.” The report is the first examination of Interconnection Bandwidth across industries, and comprehensively portrays how important interconnection will be in the future.

My company, Evolved Media, worked with Equinix to help summarize the findings of the report, and the results are really stunning. The report makes a compelling case that Interconnection Bandwidth will be the foundation of any company’s ability to go through a successful process of digital transformation. One of the major conclusions of the report is that private connections are far outpacing public Internet growth. By 2020, the private internet will grow to include 5,000 Tbps of data. That’s twice the growth rate of global Internet traffic.

The report argues that interconnection’s importance is predicated on what it allows companies to do: namely, to scale at rates that are otherwise impossible, empowering the type of online enterprise growth we now all expect.

Salvaging Private Health Insurance

Republicans are still trying to defuse the ticking ObamaCare bomb without blowing themselves up, and on Thursday the GOP cut the first wire: President Trump signed an executive order that could begin to revive private insurance markets. More to the point, Americans may start to have more choices at a lower cost.

One piece of this week’s order directs the Labor Department to “consider expanding access” to Association Health Plans, which would allow small businesses to team up to offer insurance. The purpose is to let trade…

Trump health secretary to repay cost of private jet travel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised on Thursday to repay the nearly $52,000 cost of his seats on private charter flights, as expensive air travel by Trump administration officials drew sharp scrutiny from Congress.

“Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes,” said Price, a former member of Congress, in a statement. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.”

Price was one of a handful of senior officials in President Donald Trump’s administration put on the defensive over reports about their use of charter flights and government aircraft, sometimes for personal travel, when they could have flown commercial for less money.

Price told Fox News on Thursday that Trump had spoken to him about the matter and was not happy. Asked if he retained Trump’s confidence, Price said he worked at the president’s pleasure.

Washington media outlet Politico reported that Price had taken at least two dozen private charter flights since May at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $400,000.

Politico in a report on Thursday night said the White House had approved the use of military aircraft for other trips by Price to Africa, Europe and Asia in the spring and summer that cost taxpayers more than $500,000.

“Secretary Price will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for $51,887.31,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday.

Price is paying his individual share of the charter flight cost, an HHS official said. Price said earlier on Thursday he believed he retained Trump’s confidence.

Senior U.S. government officials travel frequently, but are generally expected to keep the costs down by taking commercial flights or the train when possible.

Price, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin were all in the spotlight for their travel habits.

Politico reported late on Thursday that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a charter flight from Las Vegas to Glacier Park International Airport in Montana in June that cost $12,375. The route is served by commercial flights.

Zinke also took charter flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March and used a military aircraft to travel to Norway in May, according to Politico.

“As with previous interior secretaries, the Secretary traveled on charter flights when there were no commercial options available,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement. “All travel is pre-approved by the ethics office before booking and the charter flights went through an additional level of due diligence.”

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley urged Trump in a statement ”to emphasize to cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel in accordance with federal restrictions.”

PRICES EXPRESSES REGRET

In his statement, Price said his travel had been approved by legal and departmental officials. But he expressed regret over the concerns raised and pledged to take no more private charter flights while health secretary.

“I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer,” said Price, an orthopedic surgeon. He was confirmed in February as health secretary despite questions about how he had been buying shares in publicly traded healthcare companies while working on legislation affecting them.

As a conservative Republican U.S. representative in 2009, Price chastised “the fiscal irresponsibility” of private-plane use by government officials in an appearance on CNBC television that he also posted on Twitter.

Price’s travels and those of the entire Trump Cabinet are being probed by a U.S. House of Representatives committee. Senate Democrats wrote to Price on Thursday demanding information about his flights.

The inspectors general at HHS, EPA and Treasury are investigating to see if government travel rules were followed.

The EPA’s inspector general said last month it was investigating Pruitt’s frequent travels to his home state of Oklahoma. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Pruitt had taken at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said Pruitt did use one charter flight but that other commissioned flights were done on government planes.

“The administrator flies commercial, unless there is a necessity to do otherwise, and with approvals from EPA’s ethics office,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

At the Treasury Department, the inspector general is reviewing Mnuchin’s use of a government plane to fly to Kentucky in August for a visit to Louisville and Fort Knox. Mnuchin and his wife viewed the solar eclipse during the trip.

On the “CBS This Morning” program on Thursday, Mnuchin said he would use military planes in the future only when there are national security issues or “there’s no other means” of travel.

Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Eric Beech; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney

VA Running Out of Money for Private Health Care Program

WASHINGTON — Weeks after a veterans’ health initiative received $2.1 billion in emergency funding, the Trump administration says the private-sector Veterans Choice health care program may need additional money as early as December to avoid a disruption of care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement that it hoped to move quickly on a proposed long-term legislative fix that would give veterans even wider access to private doctors. The proposal, under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would seek money to keep Choice running for much of next year as VA implements wider changes.

On Capitol Hill, the House Veterans Affairs Committee was already anticipating that the emergency funding approved in August may not last the full six months, according to spokespeople for both Republican and Democratic members on the panel. They cited the VA’s past problems in estimating Choice program cost. That committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said they were closely monitoring the situation.

“It’s disheartening,” said Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, citing his group’s continuing conversations with VA about Choice funding. “Imagine if a veteran has to cease chemotherapy treatment during Christmas.”

Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters, said recent discussions with VA also gave him little confidence.

“It’s always a concern,” Augustine said. “Legislative action needs to be done sooner rather than later.”

In its statement to The Associated Press, VA said it could not say for certain when Choice funds would be depleted, but acknowledged that it could be as early as December or as late as March. Earlier this year, the VA began limiting referrals to outside doctors as money began to run low and veterans reported delays in care.

The VA proposal for a long-term fix is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

The latest funding woes come amid political disagreement over the future direction of VA and its troubled Choice program, which was passed by Congress in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center that spread nationwide. Some veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees manipulated records to hide delays. The controversy spurred Congress to establish Choice as a pilot program designed to relieve pressure at VA hospitals.

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, VA Secretary David Shulkin stressed a continuing need to strengthen VA in certain areas of expertise, such as suicide prevention. Noting that most veterans who take their lives had not been connected to VA care, he urged Congress to provide additional money to help recruit mental health professionals and offer counseling for former service members with less than honorable discharges. The VA earlier this year announced plans to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals but hasn’t been able to meet that goal, he said.

“We need the tools the private sector has,” Shulkin said.

Choice currently allows veterans to receive outside care if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. But the program has encountered long delays of its own.

In a sign of a political divide, the left-leaning VoteVets ran a $400,000 ad campaign earlier this month in 13 states that warned viewers, “Don’t let Trump privatize my VA.” The American Federation of Government Employees has been staging rallies to bring attention to 34,000 VA job vacancies left unfilled.

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by bringing accountability and expanding access to private doctors, criticizing the department as “the most corrupt.” At an Ohio event in July, Trump promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.”

Signaling a possible fight ahead, some Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday suggested the coming weeks would offer an important sign of the administration’s commitment to veterans.

“The president has signed a number of measures dealing with veterans issues — legislation that was long in the works,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “I hope his apparent commitment to those issues will translate into funding, which is really the test.”

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, cautioned against a possible commission to close underused VA facilities. Noting that VA facilities in rural areas might be especially at risk due to understaffing rather than poor performance, Tester said if VA proceeded on that path of shuttering VA medical centers, “I guarantee there will be a bipartisan explosion on this committee, which wouldn’t be a good thing.”

More than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.

Carrie Farmer, senior policy researcher for the RAND Corp., said the Choice debate raises broader questions about the role of government-run health care in treating veterans. To many former troops, the VA health system is a “medical home” where patients feel more understood by doctors specially trained to treat battlefield injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Significantly expanding Choice could upend that government role as caretaker, she said.

Comments

comments

Trump ‘not happy’ with US health chief Price over private travel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was “not happy” with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price amid reports he used expensive private charter jets to travel for government business rather than cheaper commercial flights.

Asked if he would fire Price, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see.”

The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee opened an investigation on Wednesday into travel by top officials. The panel wrote to the White House and 24 federal agencies requesting information about senior officials’ aircraft use.

Asked if he had confidence in Price after the reports on his travel, Trump said: “I am looking at that very closely. I am not happy with it. I will tell you I am not happy with it.”

Price has taken at least two dozen private charter flights since May at a cost to taxpayers of about $300,000, according to Politico, which first reported the travel.

There was no immediate comment from HHS.

On Friday, the HHS inspector general said it “is conducting a review of Secretary Price’s government travel using chartered aircraft. The review focuses on whether the travel complied with Federal Travel Regulations, but may encompass other issues related to the travel,” said Tesia Williams, a spokeswoman.

As a U.S. lawmaker in 2009, Price chastised “the fiscal irresponsibility” of private plane use by government officials in an appearance on CNBC television that he also posted on Twitter.

Another top official, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is facing scrutiny over his use of a government plane to fly to Kentucky for a visit to Louisville and Fort Knox in Kentucky.

Mnuchin and his wife viewed the solar eclipse during the trip.

The House committee’s announcement followed calls for a probe by its top Democrat, Representative Elijah Cummings. He wrote to Price last week requesting documents related to Price’s flights.

“The amount of taxpayer funds you reportedly spent on just one single flight earlier this month is more than some of my constituents make in an entire year,” Cummings wrote to Price.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said: “I know the HHS inspector general is looking at this and I’ll wait for the report before I comment further.”

Asked if action should be taken against Price, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, the senior senator from Price’s home state of Georgia, said: “I think that’s the president’s prerogative for any member of the Cabinet.”

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Eric Walsh; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney

VA: Money for private health care may run out by year’s end

Weeks after a veterans’ health initiative received $2.1 billion in emergency funding, the Trump administration says the private-sector Veterans Choice health care program may need additional money as early as December to avoid a disruption of care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement Tuesday that it hoped to move quickly on a proposed long-term legislative fix that would give veterans even wider access to private doctors. The proposal, under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would seek money to keep Choice running for much of next year as VA implements wider changes.

On Capitol Hill, the House Veterans Affairs Committee was already anticipating that the emergency funding approved in August may not last the full six months, according to spokespeople for both Republican and Democratic members on the panel. They cited the VA’s past problems in estimating Choice program cost. That committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said they were closely monitoring the situation.

“It’s disheartening,” said Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, citing his group’s continuing conversations with VA about Choice funding. “Imagine if a veteran has to cease chemotherapy treatment during Christmas.”

Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters, said recent discussions with VA also gave him little confidence.

“It’s always a concern,” Augustine said. “Legislative action needs to be done sooner rather than later.”

In its statement to The Associated Press, VA said it could not say for certain when Choice funds would be depleted, but acknowledged that it could be as early as December or as late as March. Earlier this year, the VA began limiting referrals to outside doctors as money began to run low and veterans reported delays in care.

The VA proposal for a long-term fix is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

“We have a long agenda, a lot more to do,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told veterans last week at an event near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “This fall, our major legislative focus is getting the Choice program working right.”

The latest funding woes come amid political disagreement over the future direction of VA and its troubled Choice program, which was passed by Congress in 2014 in response to a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center that spread nationwide. Some veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees manipulated records to hide delays. The controversy spurred Congress to establish Choice as a pilot program designed to relieve pressure at VA hospitals.

Choice currently allows veterans to receive outside care if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. But the program has encountered long delays of its own.

In a sign of a political divide, the left-leaning VoteVets ran a $400,000 ad campaign earlier this month in 13 states that warned viewers, “Don’t let Trump privatize my VA.” The American Federation of Government Employees has been staging rallies to bring attention to VA job vacancies left unfilled.

The VA said it remains committed to filling VA positions even as it finalizes plans to revamp Choice. VA said it had about 34,000 vacancies, which they attributed in part to a shortage of health professionals.

Legislative proposals to fix VA have run the gamut, including one backed by the conservative Concerned Veterans for America that would give veterans almost complete freedom to see an outside doctor. Another plan could create a presidential commission to review closing some VA medical centers.

“Congress can either double-down on the failed VA policies of the past or they can go in a different direction and empower veterans with more choice over their health care,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of Concerned Veterans for America.

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by bringing accountability and expanding access to private doctors, criticizing the department as “the most corrupt.” At an Ohio event in July, Trump promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.”

More than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.

Carrie Farmer, senior policy researcher for the RAND Corp., said the Choice debate raises broader questions about the role of government-run health care in treating veterans. To many former troops, the VA health system is a “medical home” where patients feel more understood by doctors specially trained to treat battlefield injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Significantly expanding Choice could upend that government role as caretaker, she said.

“The big question is ultimately who will be responsible for our veterans’ care?” Farmer said.

———

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1