Calling it a landmark initiative, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched its “new and improved” Veterans Community Care Program, implementing portions of the Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018 (MISSION Act). The initiative both ends the Veterans Choice Program, which expired June 6, and establishes a new Veterans Community Care Program. Senior VA leaders will visit > 30 VA hospitals across the country to support the rollout.
The MISSION Act is intended to provide veterans with more health care options. It also strengthens the VA’s ability to recruit and retain clinicians, authorizes “Anywhere to Anywhere” telehealth across state lines, gives veterans better access to community care, and establishes a new urgent care benefit.
“The changes not only improve our ability to provide the health care veterans need, but also when and where they need it,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It will also put veterans at the center of their care and offer options, including expanded telehealth and urgent care, so they can find the balance in the system that is right for them.”
Eligibility for community care does not require veterans to receive that care in the community; they can still choose to have VA care. A veteran may elect to receive care in the community if he or she:
- needs a service not available at any VA medical facility;
- lives in a US state or territory without a full-service VA medical facility (applies to veterans living in Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands);
- qualifies under the “grandfather” provision related to distance eligibility under the Veterans Choice Program; and/or
- meets specific access standards for average drive time or appointment wait times.
The veteran also is eligible if he or she and the referring clinician agree that it is in the best medical interest of the veteran to receive community care based on defined factors, or if the VA has determined that a VA medical service line is not providing care in a manner that complies with VA’s standards for quality based on specific conditions.
In addition to the new eligibility rules, the VA says it has made a variety of improvements that will “make community care work better for veterans.”
One is that existing programs will be combined into a single community care program, to reduce complexity and the “likelihood of errors and problems.” The VA also is streamlining internal processes and modernizing IT systems, aiming to “speed up all aspects of community care—eligibility, authorizations, appointments, care coordination, claims, payments—while improving overall communication between veterans, community providers, and VA staff members.”
The VA has announced, as well, that 2 final regulations of the Veterans Community Care Program have been published in the Federal Register . One concerns the new urgent care benefit that provides eligible veterans with greater choice and access to timely, high-quality care for minor injuries and illnesses. The second regulation governs how eligible veterans receive necessary hospital care, medical services, and extended-care services from non-VA entities or providers in the community.
The VA will purchase most community care for veterans through its contracted network with third-party administrators (currently TriWest Healthcare Alliance and Optum Public). When the new Community Care Network of community providers is implemented, VA staff will work directly with veterans to schedule appointments and support care coordination.
A complete rollout of all 6 regions of the Community Care Network is expected by 2020. More detailed information is available at www.missionact.va.gov.