The U.S. Senate has passed a bill aimed at a major reform of how the Department of Veterans Affairs conducts business, including allowing more veterans to seek medical treatment from private doctors.
The bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 92-5, is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The major components of the $55 billion bill have been considered by Congress often in the past few months, but a June deadline that would have ended funding for the VA Choice program finally convinced lawmakers to take action, according to NPR.
For those in the healthcare industry who work with veterans, the VA Mission ACT provides for changes in how healthcare is supplied to veterans.
What the VA Mission ACT Does
The goal of the VA Mission ACT covers a lot of ground.
For those who work in health IT, the component of the bill that will likely draw the most interest involves allowing more exchange of patient data between the VA and private doctors. Under the current system, administrative rules made such data exchanges difficult.
This was an area of frustration for many in private practice who have veterans as patients, Sequoia Project CEO Mariann Yeagers said, according to EHR Intelligence.
The legislation provides for the sharing of information between the VA and private medical practices “for the purpose of providing health care to patients or performing other health care related activities.”
Some of the major provisions of the bill also include:
- Allowing veterans, with the recommendation of a VA doctor, to use federal health insurance funds to see a private doctor rather than only doctors with the VA. They also could see a private physician if they live 40 miles or more from a VA facility or if appointments are not immediately available at the closest VA facility. The Congressional Budget Office projects about 640,000 veterans will take advantage of this provision
- Expansion of a program that provides funds to those who are caregivers of veterans. In the past, the program only applied to those who served in the military after 9/11. Now, the program extends to all veterans, with the most likely to come from the Vietnam War era.
- Funding for a thorough review of the VA’s infrastructure, which is expected to result in closing many underused facilities
Why It Was Needed
The frustration with health data exchanges between the federal agency and private medical practices mentioned by Yeagers drove some of the need for the bill. The act also will reduce the amount of administrative paperwork currently required by those in the private sector who provide medical services to veterans.
Supporters also pointed out that many veterans live far from VA facilities, making it easier for them to see private doctors.
There are potential issues, however.
Critics of the bill are concerned that allowing veterans to see private doctors will undermine the VA Cares program offered through the government. The concern is that ultimately more veterans will be pushed into using a private doctor.
However, supporters of the bill – including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans organizations – have vowed to closely monitor how the new program is implemented. They also point out that the new healthcare reimbursement replaces the current seven, complicated reimbursement systems with just one, making it better for veterans.
Others also voiced concern about the closing of veterans’ facilities, according to NPR. Congressional members have vowed not to close any VA facilities without first getting input from the community.