Tester Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Protect Montana Veterans’ Access to Lifesaving Emergency Medical Transportation
Bill supported by Montana and national emergency service providers and organizations
U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, recently introduced his bipartisan VA Emergency Transportation Access Act to protect rural veterans’ access to quality, lifesaving emergency medical care and transport.
“In rural states like Montana, emergency air and ground transportation is a lifeline for veterans who can easily find themselves a long way from a hospital when a medical emergency happens,” said Tester. “Our bipartisan bill will ensure veterans can continue to access the timely, lifesaving emergency services they have earned, and that local emergency transportation providers are fairly reimbursed for their service to these heroes.”
Tester’s bipartisan legislation would bar the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from reducing rates of pay and reimbursement for special mode transportation providers, including ground and air ambulances, unless VA meets certain requirements that ensure rate changes will not reduce veterans’ access to this essential service. Uninformed reductions in rates to levels below the actual cost of these emergency transports, without proper safeguards in place, would have catastrophic impacts if providers are forced to reduce services and even close access points due to an inability to absorb those costs.
Veterans living in rural or hard-to-reach areas in Montana and across the country rely on emergency medical care and transports to access urgent, lifesaving medical care. In February, VA finalized a proposed rule change for special mode transportation service rates that would bring rates far below the actual costs of these services that would go into effect February 2024, despite significant opposition from Tester, Congress, providers, and Veteran Service Organizations. Rate reductions could cause emergency transportation providers to severely reduce services, close bases, or even bill veterans for the remainder of their costs in order to shoulder the financial impacts of this change. The Department’s plan to reduce this negative impact through contracted rates above the base rates proposed in the rule is months behind and many aspects of the contracting plans are still not confirmed.
Under the Senator’s VA Emergency Transportation Access Act, VA must complete the following requirements before pursuing a change that would reduce reimbursement rates for Special Modes of Transportation:
- Conduct a thorough review of the impact a change in rates would have on veterans’ access to care;
- Consult industry experts, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appropriate VA subject matter experts, and Veterans Service Organizations when conducting the review;
- Develop a formal process of updating the rates that protects or expands veterans’ current access to emergency transportation; and
- Ensure the new rates reflect the actual costs of transportation.
A longtime advocate of protecting veterans’ transportation options and reimbursements to access earned health care, Tester championed bipartisan legislation last year to provide travel reimbursements for low-income rural veterans in advance of their medical appointments. He also pushed VA to increase reimbursement rates for veterans who travel more than seven miles for VA health care appointments.
Tester’s VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is supported by Wounded Warrior Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, The American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Numerous industry emergency medical service leaders in Montana and nationwide also applauded the Senator’s bipartisan effort to make sure VA maintains fair emergency transportation rates.
“Great Falls Emergency Services (GFES) fully supports the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act,” said Justin Grohs, General Manager and Paramedic for GFES. “We are grateful to Senators Tester, Moran, Murray, and Boozman for introducing this legislation which will ensure ambulance services are reimbursed properly by the VA and can continue to provide ambulance transport of our Veterans.”
“We applaud Senators Tester, Moran, Murray, and Boozman for introducing the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act and their continued leadership in making sure our nation’s Veterans are supported by ambulance service when needed” said Don Whalen, President of the Montana Ambulance Association (MTAA). “Montana has many ambulance services that proudly transport Veterans long distances and is crucial that the VA maintains a predictable and sustainable reimbursement structure.”
“Having access to VA’s Special Mode of Transportation is the only way many veterans can safely get to their VA and authorized non-VA medical appointments,” said Heather Ansley, Chief Policy Officer of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act helps ensure reimbursement rates for this program remain strong by preventing VA from changing them until a review of their impact on veterans’ access to care, the actual cost of transportation and other variables is conducted.”
“The American Legion and our 1.6 million members applaud the swift bipartisan leadership of Senators Tester and Moran in introducing the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act,” said Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of The American Legion. “This timely proposal rightfully institutes accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and continuity for our nation’s veterans to receive the emergency care they need, when they need it most – without arbitrary reimbursement rate changes that leave veterans footing outrageous emergency transportation service bills and diminished access to emergency services. The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is a step toward a more transparent, more veteran-focused VA healthcare system.”
“The VFW supports the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act which would limit the Secretary of VA from modifying the rate of payment or reimbursement for transportation of veterans or other individuals via special modes of transportation under the laws administered by the Secretary,” said VFW Associate Director Meggan Thomas. “The VFW does not support the reduction of transportation rates, especially when rising costs make it challenging for veterans to access services. We believe there must be a more effective way of handling transportation issues. We thank Senators Tester and Moran for introducing this bill, and we look forward to getting this legislation passed into law.”
“The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act by Senators Tester, Moran, Murray and Boozman will help ensure that veterans as well as communities continue to have access to often lifesaving emergency 9-1-1 ambulance services,” said Randy Strozyk , President of the American Ambulance Association.
“I thank Senators Tester, Moran, Murray, and Boozman for introducing this important legislation,” said Fire Chief John S. Butler, President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “By holding VA accountable to develop fair and reasonable rates, the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act will ensure that our nation’s veterans continue to receive the quality emergency care that they deserve. In addition, local fire and EMS departments will continue to be reimbursed for this important service to the heroes of their community.”
“Life Flight Network provides lifesaving emergency medical care and transport to veterans every day, across Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho,” said Ben Clayton, CEO of Life Flight Network. “We are often the only lifeline to specialty healthcare for veterans living in our rural communities. As a veteran myself, I understand how important this legislation is to ensuring veterans, particularly in rural areas, continue to have access to high quality, lifesaving emergency care. We celebrate Senators Tester and Moran for their efforts in addressing this critical issue and urge Congress to pass the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act.”
“We must ensure our nation’s veterans have access to care when they need it most, and this legislation provides a thoughtful approach by ensuring the VA fully considers the impacts of its proposed cuts,” said JaeLynn Williams, CEO of AirMethods. “This bipartisan bill provides much-needed certainty for veterans, air providers, and the rural health care system as they face looming cuts from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.”
“Veterans who have served our country deserve emergency air ambulance services in their time of need,” said Chris Hall of PHI Air Medical. “PHI Air Medical commends Senator Tester and Senator Moran for their bipartisan leadership in proposing the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act. This Act will ensure our veterans get prompt emergency medical care and transportation throughout the United States. We urge Congress to enact it as soon as possible.”
“Our members share stories every day of how impactful specialty transport is to patients in their time of need. Supporting veterans’ access to this vital safety net service remains a top priority for us,” said Jana Williams, President & CEO of the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS). “The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act introduces a thoughtful approach to protecting emergency transport access for veterans and we applaud Senators Tester, Moran, Murray, and Boozman for their efforts. We remain committed to partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Members of Congress, and veterans’ organizations to find a solution that improves access and guarantees care for all our nation’s veterans.”
“GMR applauds Senator Tester and Senator Moran for the introduction of this act, and their continued commitment to advocate for our veteran patients and communities to ensure they receive the medical care they deserve,” said Nick Loporcaro, President and Chief Executive Officer of GMR. “We remain a committed partner and advocate for our veteran patients and their communities to ensure they receive the medical care they deserve.”
“Americans, who have served their country honorably, deserve the highest quality healthcare, regardless of whether they live close to a hospital or not. This care should include access to life-saving technology, such as emergency air medical services, that can often make the difference between life and death,” said Treg Manning, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Airbus Helicopters, Inc. “The bipartisan VA Emergency Transportation Access Act will ensure that any changes to the VA’s reimbursement structure that could impact access to or quality of emergency transportation will have the full input of veterans, relevant U.S. government agencies, and affected industry. This collaboration will lead to better care for those who served our nation. Airbus supports this legislation and looks forward to working with Congress, the VA, and stakeholders to produce positive outcomes for veterans.”