The Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled proposed new rules Wednesday to allow veterans more options to get private care at taxpayer expense rather than visit a VA facility.
Currently, veterans who live more than 40 miles from the closest VA or have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA appointment can opt to get private care paid for by the VA.
The proposed rules are geared to drive time – 60 minutes for specialty care and 30 minutes for primary and mental health care. The acceptable wait time would shrink to 20 days, and vets needing urgent care could go to a private doctor without pre-authorization, but may be responsible for a co-payment.
If finalized after public comment in the next six months, the rules would deliver on a key campaign promise made by President Donald Trump to expand choices for veterans seeking healthcare outside the VA.
But they have already drawn sharp rebukes from critics who say they go too far and will drain money from the VA and lead to its eventual privatization.
“This will significantly increase the overall cost and amount of care VA will send to the community,” a group of more than two dozen Democratic senators wrote in a letter this week to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Given that the administration opposes increasing overall federal spending, these increased costs for community care will likely come at the expense of VA’s direct system of care. And that is something we cannot support.”
In a statement, Wilkie said claims the rules will lead to privatization are unfounded.
“Here are the facts: under President Trump, VA is giving Veterans the power to choose the care they trust, and more Veterans are choosing VA for their health care than ever before,” he said.
“Most Americans can already choose the health care providers that they trust, and President Trump promised that Veterans would be able to do the same. With VA’s new access (rules), the future of the VA health care system will lie in the hands of Veterans – exactly where it should be.”
Under legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump last year, the VA was tasked with combining a half dozen different programs that allowed veterans to get VA-funded private sector care and coming up with rules governing when veterans could opt to go private.
Under the proposed regulations, according to the VA announcement Wednesday:
• For primary and mental health care, veterans who have to wait more than 20 days or drive more than 30 minutes for a VA appointment could choose to go to private doctors instead.
• For specialty care, veterans who have to wait longer than 28 days or drive more than 60 minutes to be seen at VA could go private “with certain exceptions.”
• For urgent needs, veterans could select a private clinic that is approved by VA and just walk in when they need to.
The VA said it wants the public to comment on the proposed regulations. “We look forward to receiving this feedback,” the agency said in its announcement.
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