BREAKING NEWS : Woman dies after motorcycle collides with car Full Story

VA touts private health care for vets but cost issues linger

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is touting an overhaul plan to give veterans even wider access to outside doctors than under its troubled Veterans Choice health care program.

Posted: Oct 24, 2017 2:10 PM
Updated: Oct 24, 2017 5:13 PM

By HOPE YEN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin touted an overhaul plan Tuesday to give veterans even wider access to outside doctors than under its troubled Choice health care program, stressing ties with the private sector even while acknowledging key questions of rising cost and sharing of medical records were still unresolved.

Testifying at a House hearing, Shulkin provided new details on the VA's plan to permanently replace the Veterans Choice program. Acknowledging the program would run out of money sooner than expected, he urged Congress to act by year's end to provide stopgap funding and loosen restrictions to ensure timely, quality treatment for veterans when unavailable at VA medical centers.

Veterans should get "more choice in the say of their care," Shulkin told the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "Nobody should feel trapped in the VA system."

Still, faced with repeated questioning from lawmakers, Shulkin conceded that an upgraded VA information technology system needed to reduce delays and ensure a smooth sharing of medical records with outside doctors was still seven to eight years away and that the White House budget office also had yet to approve the costs of its proposal. Major veterans' organizations generally oppose paying for Choice by reducing veterans' disability benefits or with cuts to core VA health programs.

"This program will require offsets," Shulkin said.

His remarks underscored significant change underway at the VA, drawing both praise and consternation after a 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center and big campaign promises from President Donald Trump to expand "choice" for veterans.

"Veterans' health care should not be subjected to offsets or pay-fors, and the full burden of providing care for service-disabled veterans needs to be borne by the federal government," said Roscoe Butler, a deputy director for The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group. He called the initial proposals a "great start" that needed adjustments to protect against erosion of VA medical centers.

Dubbed Veterans CARE, the VA proposal would eliminate Choice's current restrictions that veterans can go outside the VA network only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility.

Veterans would get outside referrals based on "clinical need," consulting with VA health providers about their medical problem. The health provider and patient would then jointly decide whether it was best to receive care within the VA or with a private doctor. A veteran could take into account the length of time waiting for a VA appointment, poor performance at the local VA hospital based on department ratings, or if the VA can't provide the service.

Veterans also would be able to access walk-in clinics, such as MinuteClinics, to treat minor illnesses or injury - subject to some new copayments.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee led by Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., is crafting a separate proposal aimed at providing an integrated network of private and VA care. Generally, fewer restrictions for veterans to access private care would mean higher costs to VA.

"We still need to figure out how to pay for all these improvements - which will be no easy or pleasant feat for any of us," Roe said.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by bringing accountability and expanding access to private doctors, criticizing the department as the "most corrupt." In July, he promised to triple the number of veterans "seeing the doctor of their choice."

More than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.

Some groups are already drawing political battle lines, with the left-leaning VoteVets and the American Federation of Government Employees warning of privatization and Concerned Veterans for America, backed by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers, urging that veterans get almost unlimited freedom to see private doctors.

On Tuesday, major organizations including Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars stressed continued investment in the VA.

The American Legion also urged lawmakers to require a detailed financial accounting each year from VA on Choice, citing the department's past problems in budget planning. Last month, the Associated Press reported that VA had acknowledged money for its Choice program could run out of money sooner than expected despite receiving $2.1 billion in emergency funding in August. Citing the AP report, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced bipartisan legislation that would require fuller VA justifications and third-party audit reviews when money falls short.

___

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 30901

Reported Deaths: 1964
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9040531
Lake3191167
Cass15796
Allen121365
St. Joseph113234
Hendricks110365
Hamilton109291
Johnson1065102
Elkhart93827
Madison57658
Bartholomew46733
Porter46521
Clark45038
LaPorte38721
Tippecanoe3563
Jackson3531
Howard34417
Delaware34027
Hancock31527
Shelby31121
Floyd31138
Boone27935
Morgan25724
Vanderburgh2402
Decatur22131
White2128
Montgomery21114
Clinton2041
Harrison18321
Grant17820
Noble17420
Dubois1712
Greene16723
Warrick16326
Dearborn16221
Monroe15810
Henry1556
Lawrence14222
Miami1351
Vigo1357
Putnam1297
Jennings1264
Orange12222
Scott1153
Ripley1126
Franklin1068
Carroll882
Daviess8116
Steuben762
Newton7210
Wabash722
Kosciusko711
Wayne665
Marshall611
LaGrange592
Washington521
Jasper521
Fayette504
Fulton461
Rush452
Jefferson411
Jay410
Clay381
Pulaski380
Randolph373
Whitley342
Brown331
Sullivan311
Starke303
Owen301
DeKalb281
Knox240
Benton240
Crawford230
Perry230
Huntington222
Tipton221
Wells220
Switzerland190
Blackford191
Fountain172
Parke170
Posey170
Spencer141
Gibson132
Ohio130
Adams121
Warren121
Martin100
Union80
Vermillion80
Pike50
Unassigned0152

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31408

Reported Deaths: 1956
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin5097224
Cuyahoga3851207
Marion260821
Hamilton2349128
Lucas2087228
Pickaway203835
Mahoning1317169
Summit1204159
Butler75025
Stark67089
Lorain63759
Montgomery57814
Trumbull51442
Columbiana47750
Belmont38112
Miami34630
Warren31919
Portage30958
Tuscarawas3062
Delaware29211
Ashtabula27431
Medina27419
Wood26945
Lake26312
Geauga25029
Wayne24850
Fairfield2333
Licking20110
Clark1956
Allen18431
Richland1793
Mercer1783
Clermont1775
Darke14716
Erie1374
Madison1327
Washington11618
Morrow1041
Crawford1043
Greene925
Ottawa877
Putnam8514
Monroe719
Sandusky6510
Hocking643
Ross622
Jefferson622
Auglaize583
Williams511
Huron491
Hancock481
Muskingum440
Clinton430
Union420
Hardin380
Logan380
Shelby372
Wyandot362
Fulton350
Fayette340
Defiance322
Preble301
Guernsey300
Carroll282
Lawrence280
Champaign261
Brown241
Coshocton240
Knox231
Holmes221
Vinton190
Highland181
Perry171
Seneca172
Ashland170
Henry140
Scioto140
Athens131
Paulding130
Jackson110
Harrison100
Adams81
Gallia71
Meigs60
Pike60
Noble50
Morgan50
Van Wert50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 86°
Angola
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 84°
Huntington
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 83°
Decatur
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 84°
Van Wert
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 84°
Few PM Storms Memorial Day
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events