CHICAGO – The American Medical Association’s policy-making body called on President Obama to take immediate action to increase access to care for the nation’s veterans by encouraging them to use physicians outside the Veterans Affairs system.
The House of Delegates also urged state medical societies to create registries of physicians willing and able to take veterans as patients.
The action comes as Congress moves to pass legislation to help alleviate delays in the VA system that have led to long wait times for appointments. The revelation that phony wait lists were created in an attempt to cover up the delays led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 30.
The U.S. House of Representatives on June 10 unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) that would allow veterans to seek care outside the VA system. A similar bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate that is sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may be voted on this week.
The proposal adopted by the AMA House of Delegates at its annual meeting was sponsored by delegations from Florida, Texas, New York, and California. In addition to asking President Obama to provide timely access to health care for veterans by allowing for, and paying for, care outside the VA system, it also calls on Congress to act rapidly on a long-term solution that will provide timely access to care. And, the resolution requested that the AMA issue a press release by June 12 that calls attention to its new policy on care for veterans.
Most of the delegates were in favor of the new policy.
Dr. David McKalip, a Florida neurosurgeon, said his delegation sought the policy because a solution was needed now. He said that he was already providing care to veterans, and that there was "an abundance of care" available outside the VA.
Others said they, too, were already treating veterans, either in emergency departments or in their offices. Dr. Mario Motta, a cardiologist and delegate from Massachusetts, said that he often treated veterans for acute problems and then would send them back to the VA for follow-up. But, they often end up back in his office when they can’t get in to see a cardiologist in the VA system, he said. "We need to fix this issue," said Dr. Motta.
Some delegates said that the AMA should not be trying to fix what is essentially a VA problem.
Dr. Richard Evans, a general surgeon from Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, and a veteran, said that he, too, treated many veterans. But he said that it seemed like the AMA was merely trying to take advantage of a hot topic. "I’m certain everyone in this room is supportive of veterans’ care," said Dr. Evans. But, he added, "I see no need for this resolution."
Another physician-veteran, Dr. Thomas G. Peters, an alternate delegate from Florida, said that all physicians should be willing to see veterans. But, said the Jacksonville-based transplant surgeon, "the responsibility to fix the VA should be with the VA."
The American Academy of Family Physicians also recently urged the President to enlist physicians in the community to help alleviate the backlog at the VA.
In a June 4 letter, Dr. Jeff Cain, AAFP board chair, also said the group was recommending that civilian physicians be allowed to order diagnostic tests at VA facilities, and refer to specialists at those facilities, and to allow prescriptions written by civilian physicians to be filled at VA pharmacies.
"While these policy recommendations are not a solution to all the challenges facing the VA health system, they do represent an opportunity to alleviate the current backlog and facilitate access to primary care services for thousands of veterans," Dr. Cain said in the letter.
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