October 03, 2016

Crapo Introduces Veterans Health Care Reform Bill

â??Care in the Community Actâ?? cuts red tape by consolidating access to care, benefits

Boise - Federal legislation to cut the red tape for veterans seeking local health care has been introduced by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, as part of his continuing commitment to Idaho's vets.  The "Improving Veterans Care in the Community Act," S. 3401, would make it easier for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to send veterans to local communities for health care.  The bill would consolidate existing, competing programs and work to address concerns raised by Idaho's veterans and private health care providers.  

"These changes are the result of a three-year effort we have undertaken to hear directly from Idaho veterans on how to improve their health care," said Crapo.  "This bill would enhance the VA's ability to have veterans receive health care in their own communities.  This will make it easier for the VA to manage its Care in the Community program while making it easier for veterans to use.  The advice and feedback from folks in the veterans community was invaluable and helped shape this bill into something that can really make a difference for our veterans.  I can take this bill to my colleagues in Congress and tell them that I know this is what Idaho veterans want; I understand their needs and I'm prepared to fight for them."

The changes are a reaction to problems with the original Veterans Choice Program that Crapoheard about though his statewide veterans' surveys and during his more than 200 town meetings held statewide. The Choice program was originally created in the aftermath of the 2014 wait time manipulation scandal at the Phoenix VA.  The Choice program was supposed to make it easier for veterans to get health care if they faced excessive wait times or long travel distance to VA facilities.

The program allows veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA facility to schedule private care through the Choice Program.   Unfortunately, many veterans in Idaho still have to travel long distances for care.  Those veterans fortunate enough to live near a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) still face long distances if their CBOC does not offer the medical service the veterans' need.

Crapo's bill would change the program to make these veterans eligible for the new Care in the Community Program.  Crapo noted that, while well-intended when created by Congress, the Choice program has run into problems for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the 90-days the VA had to implement the program.  As a result, Crapo's bill would set up a two-year rollout of a consolidated program, where one entity replaces the as many as eight separate programs that offer non-VA care services.  It also would require the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and an independent commission to study veterans' services and report directly to Congress.   

"This bill, if implemented correctly, would improve wait times, scheduling of appointments, improve timeliness of provider reimbursement and offer better access for veterans with questions or problems," Crapo added.  "Importantly, the bill would also require the VA to educate veterans about the new Care in the Community Program, what's available to them, and how it would work.  Again, I thank the many veterans, family members, volunteers and service organizations that have worked with us on these improvements and we will continue our surveys and town meetings to make sure these improvements are working, once we get them approved by Congress.  These brave men and women put their lives on the line for our freedom.  They deserve better than the existing status quo."

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