Tuesday, November 18, 2014

VA Implements Second Phase of Choice Card Program

 VA Implements Second Phase of Choice Card Program
Cards sent to Veterans waiting more than 30 days for care
Washington, DC – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it began mailing Veterans Choice Cards on November 17 to Veterans currently waiting more than 30-days from their preferred date or the date that is medically determined by their physician for an appointment at a VA facility.
 “VA continues to focus on implementation of this new temporary benefit so that Veterans receive the timely quality care they need in a way that reduces confusion and inefficiencies,” said Secretary Robert A. McDonald, who penned an open letter to Veterans announcing the implementation of the Choice Card program.
The Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit that allows some Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. The first round of cards along with a letter explaining the program was issued on November 5 to Veterans who are eligible based on their place of residence. VA is now engaging in the next phase of its rollout –eligibility explanation letters are being sent to Veterans waiting more than 30 days from their preferred date to be seen or considered medically necessary by their physician.
To improve service delivery, VA has prioritized efforts to accelerate Veterans off of wait lists and into clinics through the Accelerated Care Initiative begun over the summer. Through this initiative, VA medical centers have increased access to care inside and outside of VA, added more clinic hours and work days, deployed mobile medical units and shared their best practices from VA’s high-performing facilities throughout the organization.
 Significant improvements have resulted nationally:
  • Scheduling more than 1.2 million more appointments in the past four months than in the same period last year. In total, VA medical centers have scheduled over 19 million Veteran appointments from June to October 1, 2014;
  • Reducing the national new patient Primary Care wait time by 18 percent;
  • Completing 98 percent of appointments within 30 days of the Veterans’ preferred date, or the date determined to be medically necessary by a physician;
  • Authorizing 1.1 million non-VA care authorizations, a 47-percent increase over the same period last year; and
  • Increasing the amount of time providers could deliver care to Veterans by increasing the amount of clinic hours in primary and specialty care and through adding weekend and evening clinics at our medical centers.
 VA is America’s largest integrated health care system with over 1,700 sites of care, serving approximately 9 million Veterans enrolled in health care services.  The Choice Program is part of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA), enacted nearly three months ago, to enable VA to meet the demand for Veterans’ health care in the short-term.
 For more information about the Choice Program, call 1-866- 606-8198 or visit http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First 'Choice Cards' mailed to 320,000 vets living far from VA care

The Department of Veterans Affairs has mailed its first medical “Choice Cards,” with letters explaining how to use them, to 320,000 VA-enrolled veterans who reside more than 40 miles from any type of VA medical facility.
By late November, another 370,000 vets, those facing waits longer than 30 days for VA appointments, will be the second group to get the cards, said Dr. James Tuchschmidt, VA’s acting principal deputy under secretary for health.
These are the two groups of vets eligible immediately to use information on their Choice Card to try to secure more convenient or timely care than VA can provide. By the end of January another 8 million enrolled veterans also will receive Choice Cards. These vets, however, won’t be eligible to use them to access non-VA care unless they move beyond 40 miles of a VA-owned medical facility or VA can’t provide care within 30 days. The 30-day window is based on a veteran’s preferred date to get care or the date deemed medically necessary by their physicians.
To receive a Choice Card, veterans must have been enrolled in VA health care by Aug. 1, 2014. Those who have enrolled later are eligible only if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations in the previous five years.
As vet advocacy groups have cautioned for months, the Choice Card is not a golden key to unlimited health care from any physician or facility a veteran might choose, despite what some lawmakers touted last summer while making it the featured item of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.
“It is important to know that the Choice Card does not provide guaranteed health care coverage or an unlimited medical benefit,” explains VA Secretary Robert McDonald in a letter to the first card recipients. “In fact, before your Choice Card for this benefit can be used, your eligibility must be verified and you must receive advance authorization from VA.”
The card itself is similar to most health insurance cards, with the holder’s name shown and a number to call to verify eligibility for outside care. Authorization to use it must be cleared by a program manager for every episode of care.
Those authorized to seek outside care can choose from a network of VA-approved providers or their own providers, if VA approved. To be approved, they must treat Medicare patients and accept Medicare rates or work at a Department of Defense or Indian Health Service facility or in a federally qualified health center.
“They also have to have a valid license to practice,” said Tuchschmidt. “We put that stuff in there to make sure that the people we are engaging to see veteran patients are actually qualified to see them.”