President Trump has signed the Veterans Choice Improvement Act. It will greatly expand an existing program at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This new bill will make the following changes to veterans’ care:
- Allows patients to seek care from private doctors if they want to go outside of the VA system
- Removes barriers that Congress put in the original “choice “initiative
- Eliminates the expiration date of the law that would have closed the program in August 2017
- Makes VA the primary payer (currently they’re the secondary payer) for medical care relating to non-service connected disabilities and recovery of costs from third parties for certain care under the program
The Choice program was created in 2014 by Congress because of the VA scandal involving wait time maneuvering at some VA facilities around the country. Initially, the Choice program was set up as a pilot program limiting when and where veterans could elect to use private doctors. Patients could only use this program if they lived more than 40 miles away from the nearest VA hospital or if they could not get an appointment from their local VA facility within 30 days.
The Concerned Veterans for America said the following, “President Trump is upholding the promises he made to veterans and we applaud him for continuing to make them a priority. However, there is more work to do. The Choice program passed as a quick fix to the wait list manipulation scandal that broke 3 years, has helped, however, too many veterans still are forced to seek care at failing VA facilities. Congress now has some time to work with Secretary Shulkin on broader, more permanent Choice reforms that will truly put the veteran at the center of their health care and remove VA bureaucrats as the middlemen.”
Congress established the Commission on Care to examine veterans access to Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare and to examine how to efficiently organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources, and deliver healthcare to veterans. It recommended providing more private sector services for veterans beyond restrictions placed in the original Choice Act. This new legislation seems to do that to some degree.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has generally opposed this type of change in the VA. They have stated, “…..given the evidence of overall quality, efficiency, integration, and innovation with the VHA, we believe that efforts to reform the VHA can best serve veterans by expanding access to services the VHA currently provides. Where geographic challenges exist and/or VHA doesn’t offer specific services, the VHA should purchase services from non-VA partners.”