The House Veterans Affairs Committee will soon be voting on a measure to allow veterans to seek covered healthcare outside the disastrously bad, and corrupt Veterans Affairs (VA) medical system.
Rep. Phil Roe introduced the bill last week, saying he expects a vote on the measure and cost reports to come out in short order.
The bill would overhaul the Veterans Choice Program created by the Congress in response to a 2014 scandal that included over manipulated wait times at the federal facilities that had led to the deaths of dozens of veterans. The program was initially intended to temporarily provide veterans with greater flexibility, while the VA medical system got its house in order.
This bill would set up a permanent network of the private sector providers established in each of the nearly two dozen in VA regions, where veterans could seek health care if the agency cannot offer it.
The legislation would also assign every veteran who is enrolled in VA coverage a primary physician, who would be responsible for all medical needs and have the authority to refer patients to the specialists both within the federal network or outside to the private sector practices.
“I’ve said this from day one: The way to make the VA better is to make the VA compete and put veterans in charge of health care decisions,” Roe had said. “Just like we do in the private sector, if I don’t like my particular primary care doctor I can change. Veterans can do the same thing. That’s what I was really shooting for—to put some power in the veteran’s hands so the veteran and doctor can be making those decisions, not the VA bureaucrats, and that’s exactly what I think we’ve got with this bill.”
Under this legislation, the department would be determining whether a veteran could be referred to the private sector by assessing whether a patient faces an “excessive burden” in accessing the VA medical care. This would apply to all the veterans who, for example, are living in rural areas and don’t have the access to a nearby facility or are unable to travel because of their medical conditions. Veterans could also seek medical care outside of the VA system if they believe they are receiving poor care.
The VA would negotiate the medical rates with the private sector providers and reimburse those facilities at rates that are equal to or less than what Medicare would have actually covered.
The bill, which has bipartisan and unanimous backing of the House VA Committee’s 23 members, would strike the distance and time restrictions on a veterans’ ability to seek the private-sector care. Roe said that this enables veterans and their VA physicians to determine the best path forward without the arbitrary constraints.
The American Legion backed the bill, writing in a statement the measure “will allow the department to provide greater access and develop stronger relationships with non-VA providers, ultimately moving toward a more integrated system with the veteran at the core.”
However, Concerned Veterans for America, believes that the bill could go much further, while acknowledging that – in its present formulation – contains “some positive reforms.”