The Wall Street Journal: Veterans Affairs Agency Waives Doctor Copays for Native Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs said it would waive all copays for eligible American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, in an effort to boost use of primary-care medicine among traditionally underserved populations.
“It’s no mystery to a lot of people that healthcare is sometimes hard to come by in many Native American communities,” said Travis Trueblood, director of tribal health for the VA, adding that this policy tries to help address that discrepancy.
VA officials said they expect the final version of the rule to waive copays for these protected groups and to reimburse out-of-pocket copays made in the past year after it takes full effect in at least 30 days, according to federal regulations.
VA officials don’t have a comprehensive tally of how many veterans the policy will cover, but the agency estimates there are about 150,000 Native veterans.
“The VA decision is a huge victory for American Indian and Alaska Native veterans,” said Stacy Bohlen, chief executive officer of the National Indian Health Board, a tribal-advocacy group. “Our people serve in the military at the highest rate of all Americans, 25%. Not only did we sacrifice our lands, we have given the highest measure of service to this country—our very lives. Today’s decision honors that service.”
The VA’s healthcare arm, known as the Veterans Health Administration, offers healthcare to most veterans who left the service under good terms, but it has a tiered system of access and costs. For veterans who are completely disabled, there are few if any out-of-pocket costs. But veterans with lower disability levels, or who didn’t serve in combat zones, drop in the tier system. At the lowest tier levels, veterans have copays similar to those of private insurance holders.
The initiative puts into practice the provisions passed in the Isakson and Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 to cancel copays for American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.
VA officials have said the delay comes from dealing with operational and regulatory issues related to putting the legislation into practice.
“I’m encouraged to see VA answering my call to implement the law and remove burdensome copayments for Native veterans accessing their earned healthcare,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Rep. Mark Takano of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that this implementation is more than a year overdue but it acknowledges the “high rate of service by Native veterans and that our government has a legal and moral obligation to uphold our treaty obligations to tribal nations which includes the provision of healthcare.”
“This rule makes healthcare more accessible and allows us to better deliver to these veterans the care and health benefits that they have earned,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a statement.