KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joins Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as a cosponsor of the Veterans Choice Act to address the most pressing concern of giving veterans access to care in light of the ongoing VA scandal.
The Veterans Choice Act would provide veterans with greater choice and flexibility in health care providers and increasing accountability and transparency at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“As proof of the systemic dysfunction and lack of leadership at the VA continues to mount, we do not need more damage control – we need to eliminate the damage being done to our nation’s veterans,” Sen. Moran said. “The most important thing is making certain our veterans receive the highest quality care possible and access to care they deserve. The Veterans Choice Act makes certain veterans no longer struggle with unacceptable wait times at VA facilities by giving them the option of being treated by their local physician or being admitted to their local hospital. The success of this approach has already been demonstrated with Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home), which enables rural veterans who live more than an hour from a VA facility the ability to receive care from their local health-care providers. Current analysis shows that more than 90 percent of veterans who received primary care services through ARCH were ‘completely satisfied’ with the care, and cited significantly shortened travel times to receive this care.”
According to the Interim VA Inspector General (IG) report issued last week, 42 VA medical facilities across the nation are now under investigation, and delays in care and manipulation of records are “systemic throughout” the VA, including waiting times in Phoenix averaging 115 days for initial primary care – more than four times the previously reported average of 24 days.
The IG found that some 1,700 veterans waiting for primary care appointments were never placed on the Phoenix VA’s electronic wait list, and according to the report, “these veterans continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS’s convoluted scheduling process.”
The Veterans Choice Act provides veterans with more choice and flexibility, while bringing much-needed accountability and transparency to VA operations. This legislation will provide:
CHOICE: Provide veterans’ flexibility and choice in medical providers:
· If VA cannot schedule an appointment for a veteran within their wait time performance metrics or the veteran resides more than 40 miles from any VA medical center (VAMC) or Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), then the veteran can exercise their choice to receive care from the doctor or provider of their choice;
· Requires VA to abide by the Department of Treasury’s Prompt Pay rule; to contract using Medicare prices; and any co-pay a veteran would pay goes to the VA; and
· Authorized for two years following VA’s implementation of the program.
TRANSPARENCY: Increase transparency in VA operations:
· Directs VA to publish on each VA medical center (VAMC) website the current wait time for an appointment, current wait-time goals, and to improve their “Our Providers” link to include where a provider completed their residency and whether the provider is in residency;
· Directs VA to establish a publicly-available database of patient safety, quality of care, and outcome measures;
· Directs VA to report to the Department of Health and Human Services the same patient quality and outcome information as other non-VA hospitals; and
· Directs Veterans Health Administration to provide veterans with the credentials of a provider prior to surgery.
CHANGE: Tighten accountability on VA operations:
· Provides the VA Secretary the authority to demote or fire Senior Executive Service employees based on performance. (Includes the VA Management Accountability Act H.R. 4031/S. 2013, passed by 390-33 in the House of Representatives);
· Removes scheduling and wait time metrics/goals as factors to determine performance monetary awards or bonuses;
· Directs VA to establish policy outlining penalties and procedures for employees knowingly falsify data on wait times and quality measures, including civil penalties, unpaid suspensions, or termination;
· Directs VA to modify performance plans of the directors of VA medical centers (VAMC) and Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) to ensure they are be based on overall quality of care that veterans receive; and
· Directs VA to consider reviews from the Joint Commission; the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities; IG Combined Assessment Program reviews, CBOC reviews, and Healthcare Inspections; and the number and outcomes of administrative investigation boards, root cause analysis, and peer reviews in assessing the performance of VAMC and VISN directors.