Government and Regulations

Sen. McCain Offers Plan to Boost Veterans’ Access to Care

“Care Veterans Deserve” would extend VA hours, change VA culture, and submit VA hospitals to peer-review from outside providers.


 

On Monday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced a new plan that aims to improve veterans’ access to healthcare. Titled Care Veterans Deserve, McCain’s plan mixes immediate actions with long term plans designed to address systemic issues within the VA.

“This plan offers a path towards better care for our veterans by proposing solutions to immediate problems now, as well as longer-term legislative efforts to provide our veterans greater flexibility and more options in care well into the future,” said Sen. McCain in a statement.

If implemented, Care Veterans Deserve offers short-term solutions that include expanding VA hours to evenings and weekends for qualified local health care providers to care for veterans. To ensure that the VA can provide pharmacy services comparable to retail locations, McCain’s plan extends VA pharmacy hours to 8 pm on weekdays and keeps these locations open on Saturday, Sunday, and federal holidays. Additionally, all veterans eligible for VA health care would be able to visit walk-in clinics without pre-authorization or copayment.

The plan also includes other structural changes for VA healthcare providers. For example, McCain proposes to decentralize and change the VA pay structure to help retain top physicians. In a more unusual proposal, the senator also calls for “peer-review from the best providers in health care, including the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and others” for Arizona’s VA hospitals. The plan also calls for changes in “the culture at the VA so that it proactively partners with–rather than avoids–local medical specialists and veterans groups on suicide prevention.”

The plan also proposes long-term solutions designed to improve access to healthcare proposed by center on the VA Choice Card program. "The question remains: Is the VA getting better?'" said Sen. McCain. "Veterans who try to access the Choice Card complain they have to wait hours on hold with the VA call center just to reach someone knowledgeable about the program."

The plan would significantly expand the VA Choice Card program, which is currently about halfway through a 3 year pilot program. Legislation introduced by McCain in August 2015, the Permanent VA Choice Card Act, extends the reach of the Choice Card program by making it a permanent policy and ensures all veterans, regardless of location, are eligible to receive a Choice Card. The bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Veterans affairs on August 5, 2015, where it remains today. According to McCain, passing the Permanent VA Choice Card Act would provide all eligible veterans with the flexibility to see the doctor of their choice and minimize wait-time.

“It has been a long, frustrating 2 years since the tragic and avoidable scandal first broke of veterans at the Phoenix VA dying while waiting for appointments on non-existent waitlists,” said McCain. “I am proud of the bipartisan VA reform bill I led, particularly when it comes to the VA Choice Card, and of my work passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevent for American Veterans Act, which is now law. But, implementing these reforms has been too slow, and veterans are still not receiving the care they deserve. Our veterans should not have to wait for the same VA bureaucrats who caused these problems in the first place to finally ‘get it’ and start implementing reform. Our moral obligation to our veterans requires decisive action now.”

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