VA issues interim final rule for wait times fix

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has released an interim final rule intended to slash the long wait times that precipitated this year's VA scandal.

The rule facilitates legislation passed in the wake of the scandal that will allow veterans to seek care at non-VA facilities if the nearest VA facility is more than 40 miles away or has no available appointments in the next 30 days. Qualifying hospitals must already participate in Medicare and be within a reasonable distance from a veteran's home.

In keeping with the legislation, the VA also announced it will publish wait times for primary care, specialty care, medical services and hospital care on its website and in the Federal Register, according to The Hill. The Veteran Health Administration has set a goal of wait times under 30 days, but will seek to revise the program timetable in the future.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) offered both praise and criticism for the final rule. "We are … pleased that the regulation will continue to allow hospitals to directly contract with the VA," AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock said in a statement. "However, we are disappointed by the narrow definition of 'facility,' which may not offer the specific service the veteran needs and may exclude some veterans from getting needed care in the right place at the right time. In addition, we had hoped to see a more detailed plan to ensure that care provided to veterans is reimbursed in a timely manner."

The VA scandal led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May, amid an Office of Inspector General investigation of the VA, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Although the OIG report found no evidence linking delays in care within the Phoenix VA system to patient deaths, critics have suggested the VA improperly influenced the investigation.

To learn more:
- here's the interim final rule (.pdf)
- read The Hill article
- check out the AHA statement (.pdf)