Why the Veterans Choice Program Isn’t Offering Any Choices
As part of its purpose, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) set up
several programs for veterans’ health benefits that ideally would allow veterans to receive healthcare from VA facilities at a reduced cost. However, with too few doctors and not enough facilities, veterans would often have long waits and long drives to get the VA care they needed and were promised.
Two years ago, the VA proposed a solution in the form of a program called Veterans Choice. If the VA medical center could not treat the vet within 30 days or if this care was located more than 40 minutes away from the veteran, then that vet could go to another doctor of their choice with their Choice Card and receive the same VA care from someone else (as long as that doctor was a part of the program). Ideally, this would lessen the load on VA facilities and allow veterans to receive faster care.
Good in theory, right? But the fix needs some fixing.
Veterans Problems with Veterans Choice
With only 90 days to implement the program, it started off on the wrong foot and never really caught its balance. Now Choice is receiving a lot of scrutiny as more organizations are starting to hear about the difficulties that veterans have getting care from the government.
Instead of shortening wait times, Veterans Choice is actually causing veterans to wait much longer than 30 days to be seen by a physician. Appointments are being scheduled far into the future, and sometimes they aren’t being scheduled at all. Several veterans have waited anxiously by the phone to receive a call scheduling a time to finally sit down with a doctor and get relief from their pain . . . but the call never comes. As it turns out, several tangled rules have prevented health companies from calling veterans to set up appointments. Instead, the company could schedule one only when a veteran finally called to see what was taking so long.
But long wait times aren’t the only things veterans have to worry about. The Choice program often refuses to cover medical care for vets, either leaving them unapproved for care or leaving them to pay the bill themselves. Many vets suffer financial crises because the cost of their care came primarily from their own pocket.
This is not only frustrating and financially unreliable, it is also extremely dangerous. Some vets endure severe pain without seeing relief for months while wondering if that time without care could cost them their lives.
Doctors Treating Veterans Face Challenges
It’s a challenge to recruit new doctors to the Veterans Choice program, and with all of the difficulties, it isn’t hard to see why many simply aren’t interested despite all the good they could do for veterans.
Some providers would love to be a part of the program, but they have to jump through too many hoops, so many don’t bother applying. Even when a doctor does start the credentialing process, they sometimes can’t get a hold of anyone for months to finalize everything and get approved. Once doctors finally get past the answering machines and are approved, they find many veterans can’t get Veterans Choice to approve them for a visit. For psychological visits in particular, the Choice program only covers basic therapy, and most everything else doesn’t get reimbursed. For vets who suffer from severe PTSD and other mental health related problems, this is a major issue.
When a doctor is accepted to the program, he or she will wait for long stretches of time to get paid, if they even get paid at all. Part of this problem was aggravated by VA rules for reimbursement, such as the requirement that every provider had to send an updated medical record to the VA before a check would be mailed back. This rule has recently been revoked, but the long waits without pay haven’t disappeared.
The $10 billion solution to long VA health care wait times proved to not solve anything at all. With the increase (rather than decrease) in health care issues, several states have taken measures against Veterans Choice and Congress is expected to pass a bill addressing it soon.
Helping Veterans However Possible
Low VA Rates makes it a priority to ensure veterans receive the respect and honor that they deserve. Although we do not deal with health care, we do help thousands of veterans move into beautiful homes with affordable VA home loans. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.