Delay community care act changes until tested, or ‘endanger’ veteran health, DAV says

Abbie Bennett
April 10, 2019 - 1:35 pm

Photo courtesy of VA

The Disabled American Veterans nonprofit has asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to delay the rollout of newly proposed healthcare access standards until they can be tested, to avoid disruption in veteran care and prevent “endangering” veterans’ health.

DAV announced their request during a U.S. Senate VA Committee hearing on the VA MISSION Act, a bill President Donald Trump signed into a $52 billion law last June, which will greatly expand veterans’ access to private healthcare.

The law paves the way for a major overhaul of how the VA provides access for veterans to receive care from the private sector, while the VA picks up the bill.

The law immediately rid veterans of the so-called 40-mile, 30-day rule under the Choice program, which previously allowed vets to go to a private doctor in their community when they couldn’t get an appointment at a VA clinic within 30 days, or if they lived more than a 40-mile drive from a VA medical facility.

Now, if a doctor and veteran agree it’s in the best interest of the veteran to get care outside of the VA, they can do so, regardless of any wait time or distance requirement.

But that access to local, private providers, also known as the Veterans Community Care Program, is according to some a brand new technology horror show, which is what DAV wants to avoid.

The VA has just a few more weeks to finalize regulations for the new program, but an independent review shows the agency is in troubled, if not familiar, waters with a new tech platform.

According to the review obtained by ProPublica and published last month, the IT infrastructure could rattle medical care to the tune of 75,000 veterans a day.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Takano (D-Calif.) previously called the review “incredibly alarming.”

“VA’s history of failed IT systems shows that it cannot move forward with this IT implementation without addressing these root problems.”

Until the system’s bugs are worked out and thoroughly tested, DAV says the VA should delay implementation.

DAV Deputy National Legislative Director Adrian Atizado spoke at the hearing on Wednesday, asking for the delay.

“We continue to believe that – if fully and faithfully implemented – this landmark law can improve both the access to and quality of veterans’ health care. However, with just eight weeks before the new law is set to take full effect – we are not confident VA will be ready by June 6, 2019, to fully implement new wait and drive time access standards that will significantly enlarge VA’s community care program,” Atizado said. “It has become clear that VA is not yet prepared, nor likely to be prepared within eight weeks, to implement significantly more complex and expansive access standards without risking serious disruption to veterans’ health care.”

“Until VA can certify to veterans and to Congress that it can meet the proposed lower wait time access standards; has properly tested and can successfully operationalize the new drive-time standards with minimal disruption; and safely coordinate the clinical care of the increased number of veterans who use the VCCP networks, VA should continue to use the existing access standards of the Veterans Choice program,” Atizado said.

Atizado said DAV has tried to work with the VA on the issues “in a multitude of meetings, but the department continues to limit the amount of information they share.”

The VA has kept DAV “at arm’s length, limiting the information the agency should use when developing policies and procedures.”

Atizado said he doesn’t believe the June 6 deadline to implement the Community Care Act is a realistic one, and if kept, could hurt veterans.

“The Department seems unlikely to meet the June 6 deadline set by law without sacrificing quality and endangering veterans’ health outcomes,” he said.

Matt Saintsing contributed to this report.

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