VA Expands Choice Program Eligibility to Increase Health Care Access for Veterans
Jan 14, 2016
Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) January 14, 2016 – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced new criteria on Dec. 1 to increase patient eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program.
The change is expected to open the program to about 160,000 more veterans seeking health care at private hospitals and clinics closer to home. VA officials said staff have been granted more flexibility to evaluate eligibility. The changes are effective immediately.
“The VA is taking a positive step toward consolidating care among different programs, increasing eligibility and improving its health care services after reports of long wait times at overwhelmed VA medical centers,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan-based veterans attorney. “The VA Choice Program now allows more veterans better access to the timely, quality health care they need.”
Under the Choice Program, veterans can see a private doctor if they live in a remote area or are unable to get an appointment at a VA facility within 30 days. If the VA has no full-time primary care physician on staff, a private care referral is required. The changes also allow referrals for veterans who cannot reach their nearest VA facility unless they travel by ferry, boat or air.
The new eligibility rules alter the previous regulation that a patient must reside over 40 miles away from a VA medical facility to qualify for outside care. Veterans facing “undue burden” in traveling to a VA medical center can now be referred to private care. Burdens include environmental conditions, geographic barriers, serious medical conditions or the need for frequent care such as chemotherapy.
The VA has been under pressure to expand veterans’ access to private doctors outside its understaffed medical system. Before the Choice Program was introduced by Congress in 2014, veterans could only receive private care for emergencies or for procedures the VA did not offer. However, the system’s restrictive rules have slowed down the enrollment process and made it difficult for veterans in states with limited VA medical facilities to access private health care. Congress members have urged for a relaxation of regulations.
“As we implement the Veterans Choice Program, we are learning from our stakeholders what works and what needs to be refined. It is our goal to do all that we can to remove barriers that separate veterans from the care they deserve,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement.
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