Af­ter abuse al­le­ga­tions, the Prince Ge­orge’s school sys­tem says it’s im­proved prac­tices.

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY JENNA PORTNOY jenna.portnoy@wash­post.com

Mem­bers of Con­gress from Vir­ginia say chronic late pay­ments from the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs to doc­tors are jeop­ar­diz­ing care for the state’s ag­ing vet­eran pop­u­la­tion.

The state’s two sen­a­tors and 11 House mem­bers urged VA ad­min­is­tra­tors to fix a sys­tem that can leave health-care providers wait­ing more than four months for pay­ments they should have re­ceived within 30 days. The de­lays can dam­age credit, they said.

Con­gress cre­ated the Vet­er­ans Choice pro­gram in 2014 in re­sponse to a scan­dal ex­pos­ing ex­ces­sively long wait times at a Phoenix VA hospi­tal that also had been a prob­lem na­tion­wide.

The pro­gram is in­tended to re­lieve pres­sure on VA hospi­tals by al­low­ing vet­er­ans to re­ceive care from pri­vate providers if they can­not book an ap­point­ment at their lo­cal VA fa­cil­ity within 30 days or ac­cess a fa­cil­ity within 40 miles of their home.

Since its in­cep­tion, Vet­er­ans Choice has been hob­bled by ad­min­is­tra­tive er­rors, in­clud­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in over­pay­ments, ac­cord­ing to find­ings of the VA in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice.

“With many health care providers re­port­ing ac­counts receivable in the mil­lions of dol­lars, the level of late pay­ments is un­ac­cept­able,” the Vir­ginia del­e­ga­tion wrote in an Oct. 3 let­ter to Sec­re­tary of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs David Shulkin.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said Con­gress re­quires VA to pay bills in a timely man­ner.

“Ev­ery­one else in so­ci­ety has to do that,” he said in an in­ter­view. “If this pro­gram is go­ing to work prop­erly, then th­ese bills need to be paid on time.”

Wittman, chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee on sea power and pro­jec­tion forces, said he has talked to the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, Rep. Phil Roe (RTenn.), about call­ing Shulkin to tes­tify if VA doesn’t rec­on­cile out­stand­ing bills soon. Vir­ginia is home to 733,000 vet­er­ans.

“This is the law,” he said. “This is what you’re sup­posed to be do­ing. Why isn’t it get­ting done?”

VA spokes­woman Paula Paige said in a state­ment, “VA ap­pre­ci­ates the law­mak­ers’ con­cerns and will re­spond to them di­rectly.”

She re­ferred spe­cific ques­tions to a May speech by Shulkin in which he said it takes more than 30 days to process 20 per­cent of VA claims from 25,000 providers na­tion­wide. An ad­di­tional $50 mil­lion in charges are older than six months. He blamed the back­log in part on pa­per­work de­lays.

River­side Health Sys­tem in east­ern Vir­ginia re­ported that 45 per­cent of claims to­tal­ing $2 mil­lion went un­paid for more than 120 days. Pri­vate in­sur­ance com­pa­nies as well as Medi­care and Med­i­caid take about 60 days, said Mark Dun­can, River­side’s lob­by­ist.

River­side con­sid­ers it an honor to care for vet­er­ans, but “we need to have the tools, the re­sources to pro­vide that type of ser­vice to th­ese folks over the long term,” Dun­can said in an in­ter­view. “They’ve more than earned that ser­vice.”

The let­ter de­tails a case re­layed by the of­fice of Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock (R), who rep­re­sents North­ern Vir­ginia, in which a vet­eran was de­nied den­tures be­cause VA failed to pay a pri­vate provider $203,000. Com­stock’s spokesman said the case has been re­solved.

Vet­er­ans Choice al­lows vet­er­ans to avoid in­con­ve­nient travel to VA fa­cil­i­ties in Martins­burg, W.Va., or the District, but VA “must get its house in or­der,” Com­stock said in a state­ment.

In Au­gust, Con­gress ap­proved $2.1 bil­lion in emer­gency fund­ing in­tended to shore up the pro­gram un­til Fe­bru­ary.

Last month, Sen. John Mc­Cain (R-Ariz.), chair­man of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, wrote a let­ter to Shulkin de­mand­ing a full ac­count­ing of Vet­er­ans Choice spend­ing af­ter the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that the pro­gram could face an­other short­fall be­fore the end of the year.

“We said at the time that it was es­sen­tial, given the grow­ing de­mand for care un­der the Choice pro­gram, that the VA im­me­di­ately cor­rect the fail­ures that cre­ated such a se­ri­ous short­fall,” Mc­Cain wrote. “It ap­pears as if you have not done so.”

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