WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to consider draft legislation proposed by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the committee, that would secure the future of the Veterans Choice Program by making many major improvements to enhance the timeliness and efficiency of delivery of veterans’ care.
“The future of the Veterans Choice Program is a critical issue to tackle,” said Isakson. “The most important objective is to enhance the experience of the veteran and the doctor to make the best decisions for the veteran without the over-bureaucratization of the process. With the veteran in consultation with his doctor making the decisions on their health care, you have the perfect pairing.”
“As we move forward on the completion of the improvement of the Veterans Choice Program, I intend to give the VA the flexibility and time to implement these changes, and to see to it that we never diminish the role of VA health services or the lives of our veterans today or in the future,” Isakson continued.
Isakson’s draft legislation, the Veterans Choice Act of 2017, would give all veterans who are eligible to receive care at the VA the option of seeking care outside of the VA from a community care provider that best meets their needs. Isakson’s proposal reflects a change from existing law, which only allows those veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical center or who face a wait time of 30 days or longer to get care outside the VA. Under the proposed Veterans Choice Act of 2017, those restrictions would be lifted so that any veteran, along with his or her doctor, can consider all available healthcare options to help ensure they receive the best and most efficient care.
Specifically, the Veterans Choice Act of 2017 would:
- Expand the Veterans Choice Program to give veterans eligible for VA services the ability to choose to receive care or services from an eligible community care provider;
- Eligible healthcare providers include Medicare participating providers, the Department of Defense, the Indian Health Service, any federally qualified health center or others deemed fit by the secretary of the VA.
- Streamline enrollment, payment and scheduling for veterans and third-party administrators and/or providers participating in the Veterans Choice Program;
- Give the secretary greater oversight of implementation as well as over the participating community healthcare providers and/or third party administrators;
- Ensure veterans do not pay more for care outside of the VA and help expedite the payment process by the VA; and
- Require the VA to submit a strategic plan to Congress that includes a five-year forecast for health capacity and capabilities and demand for care.
In addition to Isakson’s discussion draft legislation, the committee considered two other bills introduced by U.S. Senators Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the committee, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, that would revise the VA’s “Care in the Community” programs. Isakson informed committee members that he sees an opportunity to put together a bipartisan bill with the best provisions from all of the bills.
“Providing veterans with the option to receive care in the community is simply leveraging all available health care options to provide the best and most efficient care to our nation’s veterans,” said Isakson. “If you look through everything we have done, there is a total commitment by this committee and its members to make sure veterans’ health services are the best health services it can be and that our veterans get the best services they can get.”
The Veterans Choice Program was created in the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2014 and designed to give the VA the tools needed to improve veterans’ access to quality and timely health care. The Veterans Choice Program gives veterans who meet specific criteria the option of seeking care outside of the VA healthcare system.
Under current legislation, a veteran must either be more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or have a 30-day or longer wait for an appointment to be eligible for private-sector care.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.