FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FRIDAY APRIL 10, 2015
Contact: Amanda Maddox (Isakson), 202-224-7777
Josh Zembik (Blumenthal), 202-224-6452
As Unacceptably-long Wait Times for Veterans Persist, Isakson, Blumenthal Call on VA Secretary to Provide Detailed Plan on Use, Integration of Care Outside VA System
Senators Urge VA To Do Everything Possible To Ensure Veterans Are Aware Of All Health Care Options Available, Inside and Outside VA Health System
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, today wrote to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to request he provide clear guidance to local VA medical centers and their patients regarding options for veterans to receive health care from local, community-based providers outside of VA hospitals and facilities.
"Non-VA care is used by VA to reduce and end unacceptably long wait times, to provide services when there is a lack of available VA specialists, and to decrease excessive travel distances for treatment,” the senators wrote. "We believe that it is vitally important veterans and providers receive accurate information on care available at the local Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMC) and in the community in order to understand the care options feasible. All too often, veterans and providers are unaware of these options and local facilities offering or approving non-VA care seems to vary arbitrarily from one VAMC to the next.”
The letter requests that Secretary McDonald and VA provide a detailed plan for correcting inconsistencies and underutilization of health care options for veterans when they receive that care outside of VA facilities. This plan should include next steps for disseminating information to third-party administrators and local VAMC’s to ensure that veterans and providers are aware of all options available, utilizing data about increases or decreases in outside spending, conducting a review and making a recommendation regarding consolidating all programs that VA uses to provide veterans with care in their community in the future.
The full text of letter can be downloaded as a PDF here, and is included below:
April 10, 2015
Dear Secretary McDonald:
We write to ask that you promptly provide clear guidance to both local VA Medical Centers (VAMC) and their patients on using medical care and services provided in the community, known as “non-VA care”. As spending on non-VA care surged forty-six percent to over $7 billion in the last fiscal year, we are concerned VA has yet to set forth a consistent and sustainable policy for this program.
As you are aware, non-VA care is used by VA to reduce and end unacceptably long wait times, to provide services when there is a lack of available VA specialists, and to decrease excessive travel distances for treatment. We believe it is vitally important veterans and providers receive accurate information on care available at the local VAMC and in the community in order to understand the care options feasible. All too often, veterans and providers are unaware of these options and local facilities offering or approving non-VA care seems to vary arbitrarily from one VAMC to the next. We have heard from veterans across the country that have tried to utilize non-VA care and were turned away with no explanation of other options that might be available. The recent hearing on March 24th before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has confirmed and dramatized these failings, which are unfortunate and unacceptable.
Therefore, we ask you to provide us with a detailed plan for improving and integrating all non-VA care options used by VA not later than May 20, 2015. The plan should include VA’s proposed or planned action to:
1. Correct inconsistencies and underutilization of different care options available to veterans, particularly when a veteran may be eligible for more than one care option and costs of such options based on utilization rates of Choice, Patient Centered Community Care (PC3), Individual Agreements, and Project ARCH over the next three fiscal years.
2. Disseminate information to the third party administrators and local VAMCs to ensure that veterans and providers are aware of all options available to produce a plan for utilizing each program efficiently and effectively.
3. Utilize data about increases or decreases in spending on non-VA care options to make decisions about internal staffing needs.
4. Conduct a review of all traditional non-VA care programs (PC3, Individual Agreements, Fee-basis, etc.) and make recommendations about the program best suited to provide veterans with care in the community in the future. This review should include the rates VA pays non-VA providers, utilization of the programs, and identify a manner to communicate to VAMCs the non-VA care programs available to provide veterans care in the community.
Reforms will help improve veterans care options. We hope for a plan by May 20, 2015. We look forward to working with you to bring consistency to utilization of the various non-VA care programs authorized by Congress. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.