VA Chief Seeks Extension of Private Care Program

Washington Report

(March 14, 2017) The Department of Veterans Affairs secretary asked a congressional committee last week to extend a program that allows veterans to seek care outside of VA clinics and hospitals. The Choice Card program was created in 2014 to allow veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have waited more than 30 days for an appointment to seek care from a private provider, but have the VA pick up the cost.

It was funded by $80 billion, but is set to expire in August.

“If we don’t do this extension, this is going to be a disaster for veterans,” David Shulkin told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, according to Army Times. “We’re going to see the same problems as 2014.”

The program was created because veterans were waiting intolerably long times for an appointment. It was criticized, however, because of difficult eligibility rules and slow reimbursement.

“We’ve learned a great deal in the last few years,” said Shulkin. “I have worked in the private sector and we would not have designed a system quite as complex as this.”

Legislation already exists that would extend the program beyond the deadline until the full funding runs out. About $1 billion is expected to still be available in August.

Shulkin told lawmakers that he favors eventually creating a program he calls Choice 2.0 that would consolidate several efforts to allow veterans to receive care outside of the VA system. He noted, however, that private-care physicians are not adept at handling such issues as battlefield amputations or post-traumatic stress.