The AHA today expressed support for the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018 (S. 2372), known as the VA MISSION Act, bipartisan legislation to consolidate the Department of Veterans Affairs' community care programs into one permanent Veterans Community Care Program. “This will provide continuity for veterans to access care outside of the VA’s medical network and decrease confusion about eligibility criteria and covered services,” AHA said in a letter of support to leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Among other provisions, the bill would:
- require access to community care based on certain access criteria, doing away with the 40-mile or 30-day wait period currently required through the Choice Program;
- establish Medicare payment rates for community care, with certain exceptions for rural areas and value-based payment models;
- require VA to establish prompt payment deadlines;
- establish processes to improve information sharing with community providers and ensure safe opioid prescribing practices;
- provide $5.2 billion to extend the VA Choice Program for one year, which is expected to run out of funds this month, until the new program takes effect;
- create a commission to recommend ways to modernize or realign Veterans Health Administration facilities;
- expand the VA Post-9/11 Caregiver Program; and
- establish a pilot VA residency program and loan repayment program for residents training in shortage specialties, among other provisions.
“We believe a strong partnership between America’s hospitals and health systems and the VA is essential to ensure our nation’s veterans receive the health care they need and deserve,” AHA said in the letter. “Our member hospitals and health systems stand ready to work with the VA in implementing the new ‘Veterans Community Care Program’ to care for veterans who have sacrificed for our country and deserve the best possible timely care in their communities.”
The House overwhelmingly passed S. 2372 last week. The Senate is expected vote on the bill this week, and the president is expected to sign it quickly if passed.