It may soon be easier for veterans to seek private healthcare after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a proposed rule to change access standards for community care and urgent care.
The standards, proposed to meet the requirements of the $55 million MISSION Act signed into law by President Trump in June 2018, would allow veterans to seek care with either VA or community providers. Among other things, the reform bill is expected to change where veterans can receive care, create hiring incentives to bring on more VA healthcare providers and establish a commission to examine the VA's aging infrastructure.
The latest proposal would take effect in June.
Following the change, veterans who cannot access care within the new proposed standards would be able to choose between eligible community providers and care at a VA medical facility.
Specifically, officials said, the VA proposed a 30-minute average drive time standard for veterans seeking primary care, mental health and non-institutional extended care services. For veterans seeking specialty care, the VA is proposing a 60-minute average drive time standard.
Further, the VA is proposing appointment wait-time standards of 20 days for primary care, mental health care, and non-institutional extended care services. It is proposing a wait-time standard of 28 days for specialty care from the date of the request with certain exceptions.
“Our medical services must meet our veterans’ needs and reinforce the trust that forms the basis for every interaction with VA. Our new access standards are a vital part of this effort," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
Officials said eligible veterans will have access to an urgent care benefit by selecting a provider in VA’s community care network, but they may be charged a copayment.
The VA is accepting public comment on the proposed access standards in the Federal Register over the next several months.
The release of the rule comes just a few days after Wilkie released a statement promising a plan that would "revolutionize VA healthcare" as part of the VA's implementation of the MISSION Act, calling the VA’s patchwork of seven separate community care programs "a bureaucratic maze."
He warned that critics might call it privatization of the VA. Indeed, top veterans groups gave mixed reviews when the MISSION Act passed.
"Although these new standards represent an important win for America’s veterans, they will not be without controversy," Wilkie said. "Some will claim falsely and predictably that they represent a first step toward privatizing the department."