New Proposed Law Could Make it Easier for Veterans to get Private-Sector Care Covered by the VA
Last week, new legislation in congress was introduced, aiming to make it easier for veterans not only to access private-sector care, but also to have it covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation is dubbed the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act.
The bill would take the VA out of the process of community care and allow veterans to find and schedule their appointments at private-sector clinics.
Currently, the process of getting community care for veterans is not easy or intuitive. The veteran must be approved by the VA to receive such care and then the VA refers them to a specific facility. Involving the VA in this extra step can often lead to delays for the patient. If the Health Care Freedom Act is to move through Congress and become law, veterans would only need approval from their primary-care doctor in these cases.
Andy Biggs, Republican representative from California and the bill’s sponsor, said that the legislation “is a step in the right direction that ensures our veterans will be able to obtain timely and quality care.” “By allowing our veterans to access community care facilities, we can ensure that no veteran goes without care.”
Though introduced this year, the legislation is actually based on recommendations that were given by a congressionally appointed commission in 2016. The recommendation included a proposal that would allow veterans themselves to choose private-sector care, which was aimed at reducing wait times. The current VA referral system has been known to cause delays but these delays can vary depending on the location and the urgency of the health situation.
For urgent matters, the current system is able to provide veterans with care in a matter of one to two days, according to a spokesperson from the VA. For routine care services, wait time can vary widely, but on average, it can take 30 days for a veteran to receive routine care.
Even after this recommendation in 2016, nothing changed in the way the VA process referral process worked. Last year, a Government Accountability Office report strongly urged the VA, once again, to adhere to the 2016 recommendation to ensure that veterans’ appointments are scheduled in a timely manner. “Given VA’s lack of action over the prior seven years implementing wait-time goals for various community care programs, congressional action is warranted to help achieve timely health care for veterans,” the GAO said in its report.
The legislation that is currently in congress, outlines a plan that would direct the VA to test a new program for three years in four different regions. These provisions are designed to test the functionality of a new system in range of diverse locations, including rural and urban areas. The program would then become permanent across the country after four years.
When the Mission Act was passed in 2018, veterans’ access to VA-funded private-sector care was drastically expanded. This expansion had a huge impact on the VA’s already massive budget and negatively impacted the wait times veterans might see when trying to receive care.
While this new legislation would be a step towards making private-sector care more attainable for veterans, President Biden said last year that he does not support moving toward total privatization of the VA.