Following Montana Veterans Outreach, Tester announces bill to address problems with Choice

Senator secures commitment from VA to come to Montana this month to work on Choice program

(U.S. Senate) – After sending his staff to 28 Montana communities to meet with veterans about their frustrations with the VA Choice Program, Senator Jon Tester today announced he is introducing a bill to address some of those issues and better equip the VA to serve America’s veterans.

During a hearing on the VA’s budget, Tester announced his Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act to provide the VA with the flexibility it needs to improve care by streamlining and consolidating community care programs, and eliminating many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent veterans from accessing care.

“Veterans in places like Butte continue to be frustrated by the time and hassle it takes to schedule appointments through Choice, community providers in places like Billings continue to be frustrated by the time it takes to get authorization and reimbursement for care, and VA employees continue to be frustrated because they have to go through a middleman to connect veterans with the care that they need. Montanans’ frustrations with Choice, along with mine, are growing every day,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “My bill includes a number of provisions that will greatly empower VA’s efforts to deliver quality and timely care for our veterans.”

The VA’s Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, agreed that Tester’s bill will dramatically improve many of the ongoing issues with Choice, and allow the VA to better address the health care needs of veterans. Shulkin also acknowledged that a failure to advance Tester’s legislation could have “an enormous negative impact on veterans’ access to health care.”

Tester told Shulkin that Montana veterans and providers are incredibly frustrated with HealthNet, the third party administrator that is scheduling appointments and handling billing for the Choice Program.

In response, Tester secured a commitment from Shulkin that leaders at the VA would visit Montana later this month to address these ongoing issues.

Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act:
• Gives VA the local spending flexibility it needs in places like Montana to steer veterans to care in the manner that makes the most sense for that veteran.
• Strengthens VA provider agreements to ensure the VA is better able to provide Care in the Community for veterans in a timely manner.
• Consolidates the VA’s multiple community care programs into a single, efficient program with straightforward eligibility criteria and a single set of clinical and administrative systems.
• Improves medical records management and strengthens existing care coordination capabilities that will improve consistency, simplicity and timeliness of information exchange.
• Expands access to emergency treatment and urgent community care for veterans.

Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act (S.2633) is available online HERE.