It’s Called the “Internet!”


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Every business with which I have financial dealings, save one, allows me to access my account online. I can check my balance, see when my next payment is due and in what amount, make and verify receipt of payments, and review new charges and credits in close to real time. My banks and investment firms, my credit card companies, my satellite TV and cell phone services, and my internet provider all provide online access to account information. I pay all my bills through my bank’s online bill pay system, in most cases via electronic transfer, and I no longer receive any bills through the U.S. Mail, they all come by email.

Except one: the bill from VA. And, because I travel all the time, it’s not just one VA bill, but separate bills for each facility from which I might have received care. When I’m traveling, it often takes more than a month for a paper bill to catch up with me.

My bank would be happy to pay VA with electronic funds transfers instead of checks, which would allow VA to receive its money faster and without all the paper, but VA, it appears, is unwilling to accept such transfers. Instead, it waits for a paper check to go through the mail, to be opened and processed by an actual human.

A first class stamp costs 44 cents. It’s got to cost at least 56 cents to buy the paper and envelopes for paper bills and to print the bills and to stuff them in envelopes and to open and process the paper payments, so I’m guessing that it costs VA at least a dollar to send me a paper bill and process the remitted payment. Emails are free. Let’s assume VA mails two million bills each month. That means VA is spending $24 million a year on unnecessary administrative costs instead of patient care. How much could it cost to set up an online accounting system cost? Certainly no more than $2 million, the cost of a single month’s invoices.


Lawrence Haun is a retired California lawyer now traveling in an RV throughout the western United States and Canada.

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VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Brandon Friedman    

    Mr. Haun,

    My name is Brandon Friedman and I’m the editor of VAntage Point. I’d like to apologize for being so late in responding to you. We looked into this and asked the folks in the Health Administration’s billing office. Here’s what they had to say:

    “VA has identified information system changes which will make it more convenient for Veterans to receive their copayment statements. One of these initiatives involves consolidating the patient statements to overcome the current situation where Veterans who receive a statement from each facility providing their care during a single billing cycle. Another initiative would make that consolidated statement available to Veterans online through MyHealtheVet and eBenefits portals.

    “VA has already teamed up with the Department of Treasury to enable Veterans to pay their copay bills online. Veterans simply access http://www.pay.gov and enter their personal information and either their credit card or banking information to have their payment processed electronically.”

    If this doesn’t answer your question, please email us at newmedia@va.gov and we’ll get you a response–and a much quicker one this time. Again, I apologize for the late response.

  2. Lawrence Haun    

    I took the time to write the original blogpost for the VA in the expectation that the VA’s equivalent of a CIO would actually read it and somehow respond, perhaps with no more than a comment to the effect that we’re working on it. Apparently that’s not going to happen. So, now, do I have to take more time and write to my representatives in Congress (with copies to the NYT and CNN) about the VA’s failure to respond to a legitimate question? Let’s use this comment here as a test to see whether anyone with clout at the VA even bothers to look at the VA’s own official blog. I’ll wait a week.

  3. KARON    

    Ironic, the VA can’t handle a Veteran’s electronic payment, at the same time they want (require)all vendors, health care providers & Veteran’s to get paid via EFT.

  4. Nancy    

    I too agree with Lawrence Haun! However when I go to got a new library card, and picked up my assistance from the county and state, they still ask for proof that I live where I do as a piece of mail that has been delivered to my home address.

    Try getting the issue the attention of Mr. Shinseki for sure he would try gets this addressed, if only to send those funds elsewhere. It is a good argument for the ever changing money issues.

  5. Greg Vickery    

    I could not agree with Lawrence Haun more.

  6. christopher    

    amen to all the above….the whole process can and should be streamlined not only to simplify but as a cost cutting procedure….I am grateful for the care and attention given me thru the va health system…without it I would be w/o anything….however…..everything, and i mean everything is scheduled 30 days out…be it Ft Wayne, Ann Arbor of Indianapolis….another area in need of attention…

  7. Dan    

    Another EFT opportunity by the VA is for travel pay. Why can’t I just swipe my VA Identification Card at the end of my appointment and have the funds transferred through my established VA direct deposit account to my checking account?

    Instead, when visiting the VAMC, I have to travel all over the billing, first to my appointment then to the travel clerk, then the cashier. The travel clerk is located in the front of the building by the exit. The cashier is located a good 150 yards to the rear of the building. So if you have an issue with walking, like I do, you are literally run all over the building. What can make matters more frustrating is if the travel clerk is off that day or taking their lunch. So, you either have to run around finding who is handling the travel vouchers that day or in the case of lunch hour, wait until the clerk returns.

    When receiving care at the clinic you sign your travel voucher and they tell you it will be in the mail. You wait six weeks and you probably will get a check. I say probably, because 2 out of the last 6 visits my voucher was “lost” and I never received the travel reimbursement. It just isn’t worth the hassle of making calls and filling out more paperwork for 20 bucks.

    As I said, this could all be eliminated by an EFT to my checking account. It would also reduce the workload and therefore the workforce. Oh, but wait, this is a Government agency, they will just find another way to spend any savings.

    I wonder if anyone at the VA that has some authority actually reads this blog?

  8. Bob Chisholm    

    AMEN, amen, just spoke with Finance Officer at Saginaw VA 255, voicing the same thing. I am willing to put all my charges on a credit card also at the point of service to Save fiscal resources. 98% of my billings are through my credit union “Bill Pay” system.

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