VA schedules two million appointments using Veterans Choice Program

Improvements made in increasing access to community care, but more work to be done


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VA’s Veterans Choice Program (VCP) has reached a key milestone in improving access to health care for Veterans. More than two million appointments have been scheduled through the program.

“While two million appointments have been scheduled using the Choice Program and we are making progress, we will not rest until all Veterans who choose VA to be their healthcare provider are receiving the care they need, when they need it,” said VA Secretary Bob McDonald.  “We will continue to make strides towards an integrated care network, and I urge Congress to enact our Plan to Consolidate Community Care so we can continue to build upon our progress.”

The Choice Act, which included the VCP, was passed in August 2014 to help Veterans access timely health care both within VA and the community. VA was required to implement a new, national program in just 90 days, with new requirements that complicated the way VA provides community care. VA recognized many of these challenges very early in the implementation of the program and VA and all our stakeholders have been working together to make needed changes while implementing this new nationwide program.

VA has outlined a path to improve community care and create a program that is easy to understand, simple to administer, and meets the needs of Veterans, community providers, and VA staff. VA submitted this plan to Congress in October 2015.

Within the plan are several legislative proposals that VA and Congress need to work on together to improve the experiences for Veterans and community providers.

  • The first proposal would increase Veterans’ access to community care providers by allowing VA to enter into agreements with local community providers.
  • The second would streamline when and how much VA pays for health care services by having VA be the primary payer.
  • The third fix would allow VA to more accurately account for healthcare purchased in the community.
  • Finally, the last request is for funding and funding flexibility to improve access to care, reimburse the cost of emergency treatment, and create value-based payment models to best serve Veterans that need community care.

“VA is developing innovative ideas and solutions to enhance the Veterans experience and strengthen partnerships with community providers” said Dr. Baligh Yehia, Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Health, Community Care.  “The Choice Program of today is a very different program than the one rolled out in November 2014. Many improvements have been made and we continue to work to deliver care to Veterans where and when they need it.”

VETERANS CHOICE PROGRAM PROGRESS TO DATE

  • Over two million appointments scheduled using the VCP significantly increases Veterans access to care.
  • Since the start of VCP we have seen a dramatic increase in utilization.  From October 2015 to March 2016 VCP authorizations for care have increased 103 percent.
  • Over the course of the last 12 months, the Choice Provider Network has grown by 85 percent. The network now has over 350,000 providers and facilities.
  • Improved timeliness of payments to community providers by removing the requirement that VA receive the Veteran’s entire medical record prior to payment.
  • Reduced administrative burden for medical record submission for community providers by streamlining the documentation required.
  • To enhance care coordination for Veterans, we have embedded contractor staff with VA staff at select locations.
  • Created dedicated teams from across the county to deliver community care improvements.
  • VA has also partnered with Congress to change laws to improve the community care experience by:
    • Removing the enrollment date requirement for Choice, allowing more Veterans to receive community care.
    • Implementing criteria of 40-mile driving distance from medical facility with primary care physician to increase number of Veterans accessing the program
    • Implementing the unusual or excessive burden criteria to increase access for Veterans that do not meet other eligibility criteria.
    • Expanding the episode of care authorization from 60 days to up to one year to reduce the administrative burdens of Veterans, community providers, and VA staff.

“VA needs Congress’s continued support to keep driving progress forward,” added Secretary McDonald. “Several legislative barriers remain which inhibit improvements outlined in our Plan to Consolidate Community Care Programs.

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Comments

  1. Donald Wayne Davis    

    I live 95 miles from the nearest VAMC which is Memphis, TN….I am only about 10 miles from the local Out Patient Clinic in Jonesboro, AR. If I need something more than lab work or a bandaid I have to travel to Memphis, TN for it….I also go to the VAMC in Little Rock, AR for a Circulatory Ultra Sound every 6 months and go to the VAMC in North Little Rock, AR for an eye check up every 4 months because I am diabetic and have glaucoma…this is 130 miles from me.
    I would like to see the VA Health care allow veterans go to local hospitals and doctors for care that requires having to drive long distances and have VA to pay these facilities… I am close to 81 years of age and luckily I am still able to drive…when I get to the point that I can no longer drive, I will be in trouble as I have no way to get to these VA facilites in Memphis, Little Rock and North Little Rock.

  2. THF    

    Choice Program. What a joke! IF you get an appointment and IF they don’t lose your request several times, you go where they want you to go when they want you to go. What kind of “choice” is that?

  3. DeWayne Druschke    

    The VCP could be a great help. But, because there is a clinic(which can do nothing but take blood)within 20 miles of my home, I don’t qualify. So I have to go to the Clinic which in turn then sends me to the nearest VA Hospital that is 80 miles away from my home. I cannot afford to take off from work nor can I afford the fuel, to make that drive. So I am still not getting the care I need. So what other options do I have. Nobody can seem to tell me any solutions.

  4. Robert Sander    

    Nothing but bad experiences with VCP. Had to insist on using regular outside referral through my PC doctor. Surgery that should have been do within weeks, turned out to be months using the VCP and its bad service. I through my card away.

  5. David Joseph    

    From my and the experience of others, about 3/4 of those 2 million appointments were bogus… as in approved and then disapproved because there is a nurse within 40 miles that can take your blood pressure as a care facility. Worse, is that in Illinois, at Danville regional VA, about a 100 miles away, they have no neurologist, no dermatologist, no oral surgeon, but rather dentists playing oral surgeons, etc. Nothing like having a tooth pulled and have to drive 100 miles back home. All of the doctors I have seen are foreign, cheap hires from India, Russia, etc.

    For a Dermatologist it is 250 miles to Indianapolis, or a Neurologist is about 250 miles in Chicago, all because you live within 40 miles of a VA care facility.that does very little and cannot use local professionals because Congress screwed up in their wording. After a heart attack it was almost 60 days to see a cardiologist because Choice said yes, then no and then had to schedule 100 miles away… and no meds.

    In my opinion, the Choice Program was a great waste of $10 Billion annual that could have been spent on hiring the best doctors that will stay… 13 primaries in 7 years because they finished their internship and went elsewhere that pays more is the normal. It is common, that if any good, they don’t stay at the VA that does not pay enough as the money stops with the appointed administrators. Left with a PA or less that is making life changing decisions is not remotely quality medical care.

    The VA has people that do care and they do mean well, but the medical quality is and has been lacking… then again, I can remember when if you were not at least a paraplegic, you were taking up space from someone that needed it more. The VA is the perfect example of socialized medicine that uses incompetent gatekeepers who decide life or death with no concern of malpractice.

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