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Streamlining Community Care For Veterans

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

By continuing to put veterans first, we can drive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reforms in a direction that makes a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of the veterans it serves.  This is the purpose of legislation I introduced, S. 1279, the Veterans Health Administration Reform Act of 2017, that would tailor and improve access to local care for veterans to better meet their individual needs.

Delays for appointments and treatment through Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities led to the creation of the Veterans Choice Program (VCP).  The VCP was intended to enable the expansion of treatment options with private sector doctors, but veterans still face significant bureaucratic hurdles to using this program.  Currently, the VCP is just one of many programs through which veterans can receive “non-VA care.”  Multiple programs with different eligibility rules and reimbursement rates cause confusion among veterans, VA staff and providers. 

The legislation would combine all of these programs into one program focused on providing non-VA care when it is in the best interest of the veteran.  The new, single, streamlined program, called the Care in the Community Program, would be fundamentally veteran-centric, enabling the VA to better partner with providers in the community when it is in the best interest of veterans.  The legislation would also remove disincentives that discourage local providers from working with the VA, including ensuring the VA will pay providers in a timely fashion for the care and services provided under the new program and enhancing direct communication between the VA and local providers.  Some providers in Idaho have experienced significant delays in repayment for veterans services through the current system, especially the VCP. 

S. 1279 would also ensure that the VA educates veterans and other staff about health care options available through the VA and how these options interact with other health insurance coverage the veteran may have.  This provision would ensure that there is better information for veterans, VA employees and the public about what the VA will and will not pay for and in what circumstances.  Further, the legislation would facilitate coordination between the VA and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ensure that a dual-eligible veteran has the flexibility to use VA benefits in coordination with Medicare or Medicaid benefits, according to his or her preference.

This legislation is the product of direct input from Idahoans, research and deliberation about needed changes and crafted with the best interest of Idahoans and veterans in mind.  I have also worked across the aisle, such as with Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) to include language that would require the VA to be the primary payer for emergency care to eligible veterans, as many Idaho veterans have been left with expensive emergency care bills that the VA will not pay.  This provision would also expand coverage to urgent care, providing veterans with yet more options to have their health care needs addressed.  Several other provisions focusing on modernizing the VHA’s operations are included in the bill and would encourage continued reforms through the VA’s internal rulemaking authority.        

The Veterans Health Administration Reform Act is aimed at serving those who have so bravely served our country.  Thank you to Idaho veterans, their families and friends, and those who serve veterans for their thoughtful input in putting this legislation together.  The sharing of your experiences and providing suggestions is putting us on a better path to ensuring that veterans services are responsive to veterans who have valiantly served our nation.  I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that sound reforms are enacted.     

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