VA health care legislation barrelling forward

Sweeping legislation, the VA Mission Act of 2018 (H.R.5674), to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve health care services for millions of veterans is heading toward a vote in the Senate this week, where it is expected to pass with bipartisan support.

A similar bill recently passed in the House with very strong bipartisan support. Key senators met with leaders of 38 veterans service groups on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, just before the Senate voted 91-4 to limit debate and allow a vote on the VA Mission Act as early as Wednesday.

Overall, the legislation’s focus is to streamline community care programs, improve health care delivery and expand caregiver programs. Congress is seeking administrative and legislative “fixes” to ensure that veterans receive care from community providers if the VA cannot provide such care in a timely manner.

The current program, Veterans Choice, has had some significant challenges. Participating providers in South Dakota have expressed frustration with the referral process that limits access to care and significant delays in payments. These issues have been particularly difficult in rural areas, where many veterans live.

The bill summary awaiting Senate action includes:

  • Streamlines VA community care programs;
  • Consolidates seven community care programs into one;
  • Removes the 30-day/40 mile rule that allowed outside care depending upon appointment time or distance to a facility;
  • Allows expanded use of telemedicine; and
  • Creates standards for timely payments to community care providers.