WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 30, 2019) — Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced its proposed access standards required by the “VA MISSION Act.” The law sought to reform VA’s community care programs, including replacing the existing Choice program that sets the benchmark for access to care in the community.
The VA is proposing community care access standards that are based on average drive time and appointment wait times. Paralyzed Veterans of America applauds the VA’s attempt to provide timely, quality health care in the most appropriate setting to veterans. “We look forward to hearing more from the VA about how these standards will impact costs and resources,” said Carl Blake, U.S. Army Veteran and Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Executive Director. “The VA and Congress must ensure the expansion into the community is not at the expense of the quality care currently provided through the VA health care system.”
“The proposed new access standards will significantly increase the number of veterans eligible to access community care by at least 20 to 30 percent, by the VA’s own assumptions. This will substantially increase health care costs for VA,” said Blake. “It is critical that VA manage this escalation in costs while ensuring that adequate resources continue to be provided to the VA health care system, particularly specialized services like spinal cord injury and disease care, upon which millions of veterans already rely.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America is particularly concerned about the drive time access standards that have been proposed. Drive time standards were previously considered during the debate over the original Choice program and were a component of an earlier community care access pilot for rural veterans, Project ARCH. Most concerning to Paralyzed Veterans of America is VA’s reliance on modernized health care IT to successfully execute this new program. Considering the VA’s past and current failures with IT programs, it is a very risky assumption that VA can get this right, particularly with the target implementation date less than six months away.
The bottom line is strong oversight will be necessary to ensure VA implements this correctly. More importantly, Blake emphasized, “It will not be acceptable to veterans like our members, who use VA health care almost exclusively, to cannibalize the existing system in order to fund the expansion of this new community care program.”