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Top Priority: Improving Veterans' Access To Care

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Many Idahoans, especially those in eastern Idaho, are aware that there are extensive delays with reimbursement to health care providers through the Veterans Choice Program (Choice program). Some providers have had to stop serving veterans through Choice because they were not getting paid.  These payment challenges have impacted the ability of Idaho veterans to use the program.  I am committed to fixing this, along with the other problems with the Choice program, to ensure Idaho veterans are able to get the quality health care they so greatly deserve.

After hearing from veterans and providers, I sent a letter in January to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) seeking the agency’s assistance with the performance of Health Net Federal Services (Health Net).  Health Net is one of the third-party administrators responsible for implementing the Choice program, which includes helping veterans book appointments and reimbursing providers for services rendered.  Health Net administers Choice in eastern Idaho, including Pocatello and Idaho Falls.  More than a dozen providers in eastern Idaho have not been reimbursed for Choice program services by Health Net, with outstanding reimbursements amounting to more than $1.7 million.  After months of attempting to get Health Net to resolve these issues, several providers in eastern Idaho decided they will no longer participate in Choice altogether.

The VA needs to ensure that the poor performance of Health Net is addressed in Idaho to ensure access to quality medical care is not hindered further.  I met with Dr. David Shulkin to discuss my concerns with Health Netand other veterans issues during his Senate confirmation process to serve as the new Secretary of the VA.  He assured me in person and also in writing that he will work to fix this problem.  In response to my letter, Secretary Shulkin wrote, “I share your commitment to improving the timeliness of provider payments in Idaho.  Being a good partner to community providers is key to ensuring our Veterans have access to high-quality community care. . . . We are taking immediate actions to ensure these critical providers get paid.”  I will continue pressing to see that this is resolved in order to improve access to services for Idaho veterans.

The Choice program was created to make it easier for veterans to get health care if they faced excessive wait times or long travel distance to VA facilities by allowing veterans to access local, private care.  Unfortunately, problems with implementation of the program have made it unusable for many Idaho veterans.

While I work to advocate for the veterans and the providers who serve them, I will also continue pursuing efforts to improve veterans’ access to health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Currently, I am fine-tuning legislation I introduced last fall to address many of the concerns raised by Idaho veterans with the program. 

Ensuring that veterans have access to quality health care remains a priority.  I continue to rely heavily on the valuable input of the many veterans, family members, volunteers and members of service organizations who have worked on making improvements.  We are making progress, but it is clear we have continued work ahead to get it right for Idaho veterans.   

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