The Department of Veterans Affairs has started the new year with an encouraging initiative. The VA announced it intends to more quickly address payment owed to community providers. The lack of management over this process has caused significant delays and problems for both providers and the veterans they serve.
The Veterans Choice Program was implemented in 2014 so veterans meeting certain criteria could seek care outside the VA. Private providers would be reimbursed by the VA’s third-party contractors.
The choice program is fraught with waste and inefficiencies. The criteria for outside care is arbitrary, the funding is unpredictable and poorly managed and the payment process for community providers is painfully ineffective. Two years ago the Government Accountability Office told the VA it needed to modernize claims processing because it wasn’t doing so in a timely manner. It still has not.
The payment structure’s ineffectiveness is leaving outside providers unpaid. As a result, providers are choosing not to participate in the choice program to avoid issues with the VA, and veterans are seeing negative effects on their credit scores when private bills are sent to collections. In short, the program isn’t working.
The VA has announced both short- and long-term strategies for tackling the behemoth that is the Choice Program payment system. It plans to assemble “rapid response teams” to handle the largest debts, publicly post its large debts for transparency and award several more contracts for quicker payments with new processing goals.
Paying accrued medical debts is imperative to maintaining relationships with community care providers. Equally important is restructuring the Veterans Choice Program so that backed-up payments don’t become an issue. Veterans want choice over their health care. It’s the VA’s duty to provide them with adequate and timely care or ensure they receive it in the community.