On June 6th, President Trump signed the VA MISSION Act of 2018 into law – expanding private care available to the country’s veterans.
Passage of the MISSION Act marks the close of a chapter in the increasingly tense debate over veterans’ healthcare. 2018 has been marked by political firestorms revolving around veterans’ healthcare but the friction point on this topic remains centered on the same question – is privatization appropriate for the VA?
The political debate about veterans’ healthcare typically places Democrats on the side of no privatization and Republicans on the opposite side. However, this issue spans the political divide, as debate on MISSION Act often saw members of the same party express divergent opinions.
As political lines become blurred in this debate, veterans’ healthcare is poised to remain at the forefront of Congress as focus shifts to funding and implementation of the MISSION Act.
The primary objective of the MISSION Act is to expand access to care by allowing veterans to obtain healthcare services in private or “community” settings. The Act consolidates several existing programs where the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coordinates veterans care in their community, creates an integrated delivery network, expands assistance programs for caregivers of veterans, promotes telemedicine and creates a commission focused on modernizing VA facilities.
One of the existing programs to be consolidated is the VA’s Choice program which was established by Congress in 2014 in response to the public scandal regarding veteran wait times. The Choice program sought to improve access to care by giving veterans access to providers in their community when wait times exceeded 30 days or the distance to a VA facility was 40 miles or greater.
While the VA was commended for rapidly launching the Choice program, over the past year Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have questioned the management of the Choice program by VA officials. Acknowledging existing deficiencies due to the speed required to address access issues in 2014, the VA is currently evaluating vendors to coordinate its Community Care Network (CCN) The CCN is a reformed Choice program that seeks to streamline processes and create efficiencies to better manage veterans receiving care in the community through the Choice program. While bids from potential vendors were due in 2017, the VA has yet to announce who will be awarded contracts under its CCN program.