New regulations being considered by the Veterans Affairs will allow Veterans who live more than 30 minutes from a VA medical clinic or those who must endure a delay more 20 days for health care will be allowed to use private-sector medical services. If approved, Veterans who must drive for 30 minutes to get to a Veterans Affairs facility will be allowed to seek primary care and mental health services outside the department’s system.
The proposed regulations are open for public comments.
In an article in Military Times, Leo Shane reported that new rules would replace the current standards now in place, for 40 miles and 30 days and “dramatically expand the number of outside health care appointments that VA will have to fund in coming years.”
The standards also would allow Veterans to receive urgent care outside the VA system.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “Most Americans can already choose the health care providers that they trust, and President Trump promised that veterans would be able to do the same,” Wilkie said. “With VA’s new access standards, the future of the VA health care system will lie in the hands of veterans, exactly where it should be.”
“Strict and confusing qualification criteria like driving distances and proximity to VA facilities that don’t offer needed services will be replaced by eligibility guidelines based on what matters most: the convenience of our veteran customers,” Wilkie said in his statement.
The report by Shane noted that some in Congress are concerned that the changes may negatively impact the VA. “… shifting too many VA resources to outside clinics and doctors’ offices could slowly drain away needed resources from the department’s facilities and lead to privatizing VA’s core mission of providing health care for veterans.”
The changes come as part of the “access standards” signed into law under the MISSON Act last year.
According to the new standards, eligibility criteria and final standards were based on VA’s analysis of all of the best practices both in government and in the private sector and tailored to the needs of our Veteran patients. Included are:
• Access standards will be based on average drive time and appointment wait times.
• For primary care, mental health, and noninstitutional extended care services, VA is proposing a 30-minute average drive time standard.
• For specialty care, VA is proposing a 60-minute average drive time standard.
• VA is proposing appointment wait-time standards of 20 days for primary care, mental health care, and non-institutional extended care services, and 28 days for specialty care from the date of request with certain exceptions.
Eligible Veterans who cannot access care within those standards would be able to choose between eligible community providers and care at a VA medical facility.
Lawmakers were to be briefed on the new draft standards but that “Capitol Hill staffers and several prominent Veterans groups have complained that much of the work in writing the standards in recent months has been done behind the scenes, without sufficient input from the larger veterans community,” said the report.