VA seeks to redirect billions of dollars into private care
The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans’ hospitals to private health care providers, setting the stage for the biggest transformation of the veterans’ medical system in a generation.
Under proposed guidelines, it would be easier for veterans to receive care in privately run hospitals and have the government pay for it. Veterans would also be allowed access to a system of proposed walkin clinics, which would require copays for treatment.
Veterans’ hospitals, which treat 7 million patients annually, have struggled to see patients on time in recent years, hit by a double crush of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aging Vietnam veterans. A scandal over hidden waiting lists in 2014 sent Congress searching for fixes, and in the years since, Republicans have pushed to send veterans to the private sector, while
Democrats have favored increasing the number of doctors in the VA.
If put into effect, the proposed rules — which remain under negotiation within the Trump administration — would be a win for the once-obscure Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and their network of donors, which has long championed increasing the use of private sector health care for veterans.
For individual veterans, private care could mean shorter waits, more choices and fewer requirements for copays — and could prove popular. But some health care experts and veterans’ groups say the change, which has no separate source of funding, would redirect money that the current veterans’ health care system — the largest in the nation — uses to provide specialty care.
Critics have also warned that switching vast numbers of veterans to private hospitals would strain care in the private sector and that costs for taxpayers could skyrocket. In addition, they say it could threaten the future of traditional veterans’ hospitals, some of which are already under review for possible consolidation or closing.
President Donald Trump, who made reforming veterans’ health care a major point of his campaign, may reveal details of the plan in his State of the Union address this month.
The proposed changes have grown out of health care legislation, known as the Mission Act, that was passed by the last Congress. Supporters, who have been influential in administration policy, argue that the new rules would streamline care available to veterans, whose health problems are many but whose numbers are shrink-
THE PROPOSED CHANGES HAVE GROWN OUT OF HEALTH CARE LEGISLATION, KNOWN AS THE MISSION ACT.
ing, and also prod the veterans’ hospital system to compete for patients, making it more efficient.
“Most veterans chose to serve their country, so they should have the choice to access care in the community with their VA benefits — especially if the VA can’t serve them in a timely and convenient manner,” said Dan Caldwell, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.
Critics, which include nearly all of the major veterans’ organizations, say that paying for care in the private sector would starve the 153-year-old veterans’ health care system, causing many hospitals to close.