An additional 160,000 veterans became eligible December 1 to receive VA-paid medical care from civilian health care providers, the result of changes to the Choice Act of 2014 voted several months ago as Congress seeks to ease the flood of complaints still swirling around that poorly designed law.
Meanwhile, VA officials have unveiled a costly, complex and phased plan to consolidate the Choice program with a “patchwork” of other purchased care initiatives enacted over the years, even as VA hospitals continue their own referral agreements with local community providers.
The resulting hodgepodge of purchased care deals and requirements, in the wake of the Choice Act and rising demand for outside care, has created an administrative nightmare for VA care coordinators and sown confusion for many veterans, VA staff and local health care providers. For the most part, Choice operates nothing like lawmakers or veterans envisioned.
Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday to explain the ambitious New Veterans Choice Program to be phased in over several years as well as changes made Dec. 1 to the current Choice program.
Before December, enrolled veterans gained automatic eligibility for Choice if they resided more than 40 miles from any VA medical facility. The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Act, now implemented through VA regulation, makes the eligible pool deeper. Vets now have access to Choice if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA facility staffed by a primary care physician at least 36 hours a week.
This opens Choice to 160,500 more veterans enrolled in VA care.
Another Dec. 1 change lifts a requirement that to qualify for Choice a veteran must have enrolled in VA health care by Aug. 1, 2014. That date is removed, making 26,000 recent enrollees eligible for Choice automatically because they live more than 40 miles from VA primary care.
Veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program or wanting to know more about it, can call 1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment.