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April 8 2016

VA Stiffing Private Docs on Choice Card Program

Patrice J. Lee

Seems the Department of Veterans Affairs constantly finds new ways to fail veterans and escape  accountability for their actions.

At the center of the latest episode with the troubled VA is a program meant to deliver health services through private doctors but is failing because the VA isn't paying their bills.

Congress approved the Choice Card program in 2014 after the VA wait-time manipulation scandal broke, exposing the heinous practices of VA staff. Choice Card allows veterans to secure medical care from non-VA doctors or private doctors if the VA can’t provide that care within one month or if there isn’t a VA facility near the veteran. This should’ve been a private solution to a public good failure.

Problems quickly emerged, however, because the VA isn't paying claims for services. In Florida, for example, the VA owes $134 million in unpaid claims for services. While the VA contends that 80 percent of claims are processed within 30 days, the hospitals tell a different story. A whopping 95 percent of Florida Hospital Association members report that the VA owes them – some with outstanding debts of more than two years. More than half of those providers say the problems can’t be easily explained and in some cases their claims mysteriously disappeared. Arizona isn’t faring much better either.

As a result of this problem, a growing number of doctors are refusing to take on veterans with the Choice Card out of fear that the VA will stiff them on the bill.

Apparently, a unionized group of government workers is using the situation as ammunition to push for an end to the Choice Card program. They reportedly are more worried about competition from private doctors than the service for veterans, however.

Not to be left behind, senior VA officials are also blaming their woes on the failure of the program – as though the wait time scandal has nothing to do with their damaged brand.

The Daily Caller reports:

Incredibly, senior VA leaders are also pressuring Congress to repeal the program because it – not the wait-time scandal – is why their agency’s image is in tatters.

“The problem, our reputation has been hurt incredibly, and you’re hearing it from the veterans, because the Choice program hasn’t worked … we need these legislative fixes to fix the program once and for all,” VA Under Secretary For Health David Shulkin said in a March 10 Senate hearing.

Days later, however, VA changed course and admitted that it was responsible for Choice Card problems.

“VA acknowledges that delayed payments and inappropriately billed claims are unacceptable and have caused stress for veterans and providers alike,” VA said in a March 14 statement. The statement quoted Shulkin saying “there should be no bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of veterans getting care.”

A veteran who has been hounded by private doctors for payments that the VA hasn't made perfectly captures  the VA’s ineptitude and role in perpetuating problems:

“It is now believed by veterans that this is happening by design to force veterans back to VA to justify the existence of VA,” veteran Tony Woody said. “VA administrators fear losing too many veterans to the civilian sector, thus causing them to lose their jobs because they know the civilian sector is far more efficient.”

The situation prompted Woody, a retired U.S. Navy Chief, to ask “since when did a government employee’s job become more important than the lives of the veterans they are supposed to be serving?”

We couldn’t make that point any better.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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