Schatz, Tester, McCain, Isakson, Moran, and Blumenthal Introduce Legislation To Improve The Veterans Choice Program

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, along with Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John McCain (R-Ariz), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today introduced legislation to improve the VA Choice Program and extend access to timely care for more of America’s veterans in their own communities.

The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act allows the VA to access all of the funding initially appropriated for the program, and ensures that veterans’ access to care isn’t disrupted by the looming sunset of the program. The Choice Program is scheduled to sunset on August 7, 2017, and currently veterans aren’t able to schedule appointments that fall after that expiration date.

In doing so, the legislation also authorizes the VA to be the primary payer under the Choice Program, reducing veterans’ out-of-pocket costs and aligning the Choice Program with the VA’s other community care programs.

The current requirement that the VA act as a secondary payer for non-service connected care through the Choice Program has created unnecessary administrative hurdles that often increase costs for veterans, delay access to care, and slow down reimbursements for providers. Further, the bill would improve the sharing of medical records between the VA and community providers in Choice to better coordinate care for veterans and connect them to care in a more timely manner.

“Distance or delays should not keep veterans from getting the health care they need—that’s something we can all agree on,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill strengthens the Veterans Choice Program and makes it easier for thousands of veterans and their families to get the care they deserve, when and where they need it.”

“The Choice Program was designed to serve veterans by improving access to care, but the bureaucracy of the program in places like Montana is stalling access to care,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Veterans deserve the very best health care, and this legislation will make sure that veterans aren’t bearing the brunt of the costs and providers are getting paid in a more timely manner for caring for veterans. I appreciate the leadership of Chairman Isakson and Senator McCain and their willingness to work together to honor our veterans.”

“Removing an arbitrary end date for the Choice Program is the critical first step in our efforts to enhance the Veterans Choice Program and give veterans more access to affordable and timely care,” said Senator Isakson, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Further, by making the VA the primary payer for care provided to veterans participating in the Choice Program, veterans will no longer have to foot the bill for high health insurance deductibles or co-pays. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, providing the best health care possible to our veterans is a top priority for me, and I applaud my colleagues in joining in this effort to continue working toward this goal.”

“Since the Veterans Choice Program went into effect, more than 1.5 million veterans have made seven million appointments with quality health care providers in their communities. These represent millions of appointments that would have otherwise been stuck for weeks or months in the VA’s scheduling system,” said Senator McCain. “We cannot afford to let the Veterans Choice Program expire and send our veterans back to the pre-scandal days of unending wait-times for appointments. I thank Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Tester and the other cosponsors for supporting this effort to preserve the Veterans Choice Program and ensure our veterans continue to receive the flexible care they want and need.”

“Veterans in Kansas and across the country are still struggling to access the timely, quality healthcare that the Choice Program was intended to provide,” said Senator Moran. “Many Kansas veterans rely on the Choice Program, and this important legislation will offer peace of mind that they can continue to seek care in their community. It also cuts unnecessary red tape between the VA and community providers who are nobly serving our veterans.”

“This commonsense measure will help provide veterans access to the quality, timely care they deserve,” said Senator Blumenthal. “By eliminating unnecessary hurdles, our bill will help ensure that no veteran is left with increased costs and delayed access to care. I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue improving care at VA facilities.”

The VA expects to have approximately $950 million remaining in the Veterans Choice Program when the program expires on August 7, 2017. This legislation allows the VA to use the remaining funds for veterans’ health care authorized under the Veterans Choice Program until it is fully expended.

The Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act can be found online HERE.