Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald on Wednesday said the VA health system has significantly increased the number of patient referrals to private physicians in an effort to eliminate long wait times for veterans.
New policy will refer some veterans to non-VA hospitals
The VA's new referral practices come in a response to a major waitlist scandal in the veterans' health system. In May, the VA inspector general found that the average wait time for an initial appointment at Phoenix VA facility was 115 days—far longer than the 26 days the hospital claimed and well beyond the agency's goal of a maximum 14-day wait. Boarder investigations discover systemic wait time problems across the health system.
Last month, Congress passed a bill that allotted $10 billion to allow veterans facing long wait times or distances to seek private care outside the VA health system and $5 billion for VA to hire additional providers.
An overview of how the new VA law hopes to fix the health system
Under the law, veterans are able to seek care at private facilities if they are not able to obtain an appointment at a VA health center within 30 days, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA center. The VA will still coordinate much of the private care, including assisting with scheduling appointments and obtaining a copy of the health record from the medical visit.
According to McDonald, the VA has made more than 830,000 referrals in the past two months for veterans to see private physicians. The number represents a 25% increase over the same period in 2013.
In addition, McDonald said the agency is working to cut the time it takes the VA to hire more physicians, nurses, and clerks (AP/Modern Healthcare, 8/13 [subscription required]).
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