Hoeven Secures Commitment from VA Secretary to Expand Access to Long-Term Care Services

Secretary Shulkin Offers Support to Hoeven Legislation to Streamline VA Requirements for Long-Term Care Providers

WASHINGTON – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs this week, Senator John Hoeven secured a commitment from Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David Shulkin to support his legislation, the Veterans Access to Long Term Care and Health Services Act, to expand veteran access to long-term care services. The senator’s bill, which passed the Veteran’s Affairs Committee during the last session of Congress, would allow the VA to enter into provider agreements with non-VA long-term care providers, rather than the current burdensome federal contracting requirements. 

“Long-term care providers across the country widely accept Medicare and Medicaid, but if they want to accept VA patients, they have to meet a whole different set of standards,” Hoeven said. “That’s not fair to our veterans, and we need to make sure they can access these services closer to home, whether it’s a nursing facility or in-home care. If this problem can’t be fixed administratively, then we need to pass my legislation to allow the VA to use provider agreements to expand access to extended care. Secretary Shulkin has offered to help, including setting a timeline to get it done, and I appreciate his commitment to our shared goal.”

Strengthening Veterans Choice 

Hoeven also urged Shulkin to empower local providers to deliver the health care veterans need.

“VA staff need to be empowered to make good decisions, not just technical decisions,” Hoeven said. “For instance, we are still running into issues in rural areas where the 40-mile, 30-day rule under the Veterans Choice Program results in veterans having to travel long distances for vital health care, up to an 800 mile roundtrip. That’s why we continue working to provide more health care options closer to home and improve the quality of care for our veterans through our Veterans Care Coordination initiative.”

This comes as part of the senator’s efforts to build on the success of the Veterans Care Coordination initiative at the Fargo VA, which he secured and worked to implement with federal and local officials. In February, Shulkin accepted the senator’s invitation to visit North Dakota and see firsthand local efforts to improve care for veterans, including the initiative. Hoeven is promoting the initiative as a model to help address delays in scheduling appointments through the Veterans Choice Program across the nation.

The initiative allows veterans seeking care through the Choice Program to coordinate all of their health care needs through the Fargo VA Medical Center rather than Health Net, a third party contractor headquartered in California. As a result, the average wait time between initial call and scheduling a community appointment has decreased from nearly 24 days a year ago to five or six days currently. The program also arranges to have a Health Net staff member at the Fargo VA so providers can work with the Fargo VA to improve provider reimbursements and reduce denials of veterans’ claims. 

In addition, the President recently signed legislation Hoeven cosponsored to extend the Veterans Choice Program, which was set to expire in August. The legislation ensures veterans can benefit from the $950 million in appropriated funding for the program that would have otherwise gone unused. Further, the bill allows the VA to serve as the primary payer under the Veterans Choice Program, alleviating the difficulties providers have faced in receiving payment for services, and improves the sharing of medical records between the VA and community providers, which will reduce wait times for appointments and strengthen care coordination.