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Veteran Access to Care Act allows VA patients to seek outside care

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House lawmakers unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to eliminate employee bonuses for three years and allow patients within the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive government-funded treatment outside the system under certain circumstances.

The Veteran Access to Care Act, co-sponsored by Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, passed by a 426-0 vote.

The legislation was introduced Monday after a VA audit revealed that more than 57,000 veterans nationwide have waited more than 90 days for their first medical appointment, with nearly 64,000 more patients in the federal agency having been denied care during the past decade.

At the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, 134 newly enrolled veterans have yet to be scheduled an appointment, despite requesting one in the past 10 years, the audit found.

“This legislation couldn’t come at a more appropriate time,” Barrow said in a statement. “Veterans have waited long enough to get the care they’ve earned, and this week’s report only underscores the need for us to act quickly. This is in no way the only step we need to make, but it addresses the immediate needs of veterans while we continue to overhaul the VA from the ground up.”

Under terms of the legislation – which would expire after two years – veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or cannot get an appointment within the department’s wait-time goals can receive outside care reimbursed by the federal agency at the highest available rate set by Medicare, Tricare or the VA itself.

Also, the act would ban bonuses for VA employees from fiscal years 2014 through 2016.

Barrow introduced the bill with Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, who said in a statement that the VA’s latest audit data was evidence that the recent scandal “just keeps getting worse.”

Citing at least 58 veteran deaths linked to delayed VA medical care, including three in Augusta, Miller described the bill as “emergency legislation.”

“It’s unfortunate I have to introduce legislation to address this problem, because the department has had the authority to offer veterans health care services outside of the VA system for years,” Miller said. “However, the continuing revelations of data manipulation and interminably long patient wait times have made it disturbingly clear that VA is unwilling to utilize that authority as often as it should.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation, the Veterans Choice Act, is pending passage.


The Veterans Access to Care Act also would require:

• An independent assessment of Veterans Health Administration performance, to include recommendations for improvement of VA’s current and projected health care capabilities and resources

• The VA to report to Congress on the department’s response to the assessment’s findings and provide timelines for fully implementing the audit’s recommendations

• The Office of Management and Budget to provide an estimate of the bill’s budgetary effects

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corgimom 06/10/14 - 06:37 pm
" reimbursed by the federal

" reimbursed by the federal agency at the highest available rate set by Medicare, Tricare or the VA itself"

And that right there is going to cause problems.

So what happens when a doctor or hospital refused to accept the voucher, because the reimbursement rate is too low?

This is one of those election-year "See what I did!" bills that, in practice, isn't near as good as it looks on paper.

dsterling9 06/11/14 - 07:55 am

Very true corgimom. More and more doctors and facilities are turning down Medicare and Tricare. Discussed with a doctor recently about how the 'new' medical reporting requirements have damaged patient care by added time for reports.

As far a bonuses is my opinion that no person should ever get anything extra unless their performance reflects 'going above and beyond'. Just doing the job you were hired to do is not justification for a bonus...especially for higher level managers.

The crap OUR government is doing really makes me sick. I will be required to change over to Medicare shortly and it is scary.

GuyGene 06/11/14 - 08:45 am
VA already has the authority?

They've had the power to do this already? VA is hopeless.

slowrider 06/11/14 - 09:26 am
VA already has this authority

This knowledge makes it especially sad that this option was not already utilized with the delays in care. Wow.

I wonder if veterans in the facility knew of this option, and the process to ask for an outside deferral?

thauch12 06/11/14 - 10:09 am
Disgusting politics

This is PURE politics and it is most unfortunate. It's an election year and the vultures have found something that is detestable to all. But it's not new news that the VA is inefficient, wasteful, and corrupt.

Moreover, this bill passing is pointless to a majority of veterans who have Medicare anyway. For these men and women, they have always had the right to be treated at other medical centers using their Medicare coverage if they so choose. John Barrow would have you believe he came up with this grand idea but it's been this way for a long time...

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