Forward Observer — Change 2 to the Veterans Choice Program – Further Tinkering This Time …

But Expect More to Come

LVMAC Poster Art 2005On 1 December, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it again was making changes to its Veterans Choice Program after “learning from our stakeholders what works and what needs to be refined …” It is the second major announcement, since the program began on 5 November 2014.  As previously reported, the “as the crow flies” 40 mile rule was changed to actual driving distance on 24 April 2015.  A back story to this last announcement has been barely noticed.

On 28 July 2015, Representative Bill Shuster (PA-9), Chair of the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced HR 3236. Three days later, the unamended bill was enacted by the President as Public Law No. 114-41, the “Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015”. The equivalent of a rider of  long-term significance to veterans had been tacked onto a surface transportation bill as Title IV.

Apparently, in exchange for helping the VA get itself out of a budgetary crisis through granting it temporary authority until the end of FY2015 to use certain transfers from the Veterans Choice Fund to pay for health care for eligible veterans at non-VA facilities – including pharmaceuticals for treatment of Hepatitis C – the Congress directed the Secretary of the VA to develop a plan to consolidate all non-VA provider programs into a single Veterans Choice Program for furnishing enrolled veterans hospital care and medical services at non-VA facilities. Consequently, more than the original Veterans Choice Card program is now involved under the term “Veterans Choice.”

This new requirement has potential long-term consequences on how the VA will deliver its services for the future. The Independent Assessment of the Health Care Delivery Systems and Management Processes of the Department of Veterans Affairs released on 1 September 2015 (Choice Act Section 201 – Independent Assessments) suggested additional changes will be in store for Veterans Choice.

The Act, in advance of some of the recommendations of the assessment report, further modified the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA, PL 103-146, 7 August 2014) by requiring the VA to repeal the 60-day limit on follow-up care, expand eligibility to any veteran enrolled in VA healthcare, extend eligibility to any health care provider meeting VA criteria; and base the 40-mile distance requirement on distance traveled from a VA medical facility offering primary care using a full-time primary care physician.

Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that on 1 December the VA announced in one of its press releases the department is making a number of changes to make participation in the Veterans Choice Program easier and more convenient. According to the press release, “The move, which streamlines eligibility requirements, follows feedback from Veterans along with organizations working on their behalf.”

Expect more changes in the future.  In the meantime, these VA products explain the Veterans Choice program as of 1 December:

1) the changes,

2) the new rules for eligibility, and

3) an explanation of the term “unusual or excessive burden”.

More details on the choice program for veterans and providers can be found by clicking here.

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RJH
As of 8 December 2015

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