Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday advocating for more choice in House draft legislation that would reform the Veterans Choice Program and consolidate the community care programs.
The House held a hearing on several VA related bills, but the two major Choice proposals – one by the VA and one from the House Veterans Affairs Committee – were at the center of the hearing.
The Choice Program was a well-intentioned program that was implemented in response to the 2014 waitlist scandal. However, the program has fallen short in delivering real choice for veterans. Unnecessary bureaucratic rules have prevented the program from functioning effectively and efficiently.
Secretary Shulkin agreed with Chairman Phil Roe that the Choice Program needs to be reformed and centered on clinical decisions, rather than bureaucratic decisions. In his opening statement, Shulkin discussed what the new Choice Program would look like:
“Veterans care ensures that veterans get the right care at the right time with the right provider. It’s a system that’s driven by good clinical decisions, rather than administrative decisions.”
Reiterating CVA’s concerns about the proposed draft legislation, Shulkin cautioned about the House Veterans Affairs proposal:
“We are concerned that this approach is narrow and relies on administrative, rather than clinical, criteria.”
This is an important improvement that must be incorporated into any new choice legislation. The Choice Program has proved that the VA acting as a gatekeeper between veterans and their healthcare is not an effective strategy. That is why CVA is supporting allowing an eligible veteran to choose any primary care physician within their VA integrated care network – regardless of whether they are at the VHA or a contracted community provider.
Congress needs to ensure the Choice Program empowers veterans with more control over their health care. The high administrative costs of the current Choice Program are not conducive to creating a more efficient program.
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