Citing the growing demand from the Iraq/Afghanistan war, the Veteran’s Administration has restructured the way it delivers its healthcare. It’s ambitious, to be sure, but its goal is to expand the services while streamlining the logistics. This, it says, will not only improve care for younger veterans from the above mentioned wars, but it will also provide better care for aging Vietnam war veterans.
The New Veterans Choice Program
The new program will merge services into a single system to eliminate gaps in care. Baligh Yehia, the VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary, told congressional lawmakers this month, “We cannot provide every medical service in every location to every single veteran. This doesn’t mean we’re outsourcing VA or dismantling VA. We want a complementary system. VA will still provide foundational services.”
So what will this new program look like? Veterans can go to private doctors if they live too far from a VA hospital or should they need a specialist. Further, if they are unable to secure an appointment with a VA specialist within thirty days, they may schedule an appointment with a private doctor. Outsourcing Veteran’s healthcare means reducing wait times and eliminating gaps in care created by a bureaucratic obstructions.
“Where it makes sense to outsource, believe me, we’re going to move in that direction,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said, as reported in the Washington Post.
Gibson went so far as to admit to lawmakers that the government’s network of private doctors that are available to veterans is too complicated not only for veterans, but to physicians and VA employees too. As the program currently stands, around 10 percent of medical appointments are private. The problem is that there are varying degrees of reimbursement for doctors, emergency rooms and nursing homes.
Lawmakers are concerned about the costs associated with this type of overhaul. The VA says it will need anywhere between $1.2 billion and $2.4 billion a year for the first three years. After that, they need around $2 billion annually to meet expanded access to emergency services and urgent care. Officials said the money will be necessary to meet a surge in demand when veterans have better access and shorter waiting periods to see outside doctors.
Conservatives say they favor more private care and outsourcing. They say it’s a less costly option to keeping veterans entirely within the VA system, which is intricate and involves more overhead. Meanwhile, liberals believe the government is better at caring for veterans.
Two years ago, Congress passed a $10 billion overhaul bill for the VA to develop the Care in the Community Program, which provided veterans a card to see private doctors. Before long, the program with overwhelmed with requests and the VA was forced to look to other parts of its budget for funds. It ultimately requested and received an additional $6 billion to fund the program through October 2015.
This new plan comes as the scandals continue to plague the agency. Criticism is at an all-time high as lawmakers, veterans and various whistleblowers continue to demand accountability for less than ideal care. The Office of the Inspector General found in September that the department had a massive backlog of nearly 900,000 healthcare applications waiting to be approved and that more than 300,000 veterans had died waiting for approval.
Indeed, it’s well past time to find better solutions.