Hoeven Updates VFW on Efforts to Expand Veteran Access to Health Care, Extended Care Services Closer to Home

Fargo VA Initiative has Reduced Veterans Choice Scheduling Wait Time from Nearly 24 Days to Less Than 5 Days

WEST FARGO, N.D. – At the North Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Mid-Winter Conference today, Senator John Hoeven thanked the VFW members for their service to the nation and updated them on his efforts to improve veterans’ access to health care services.

“As we move into a new session of Congress and a new administration, we have a real opportunity to improve veteran health care,” Hoeven said. “We made significant progress on our bipartisan legislation to open up more health care and extended care for veterans through provider agreements, and we will continue to advance that measure. We will also continue building on the success of the Fargo VA’s Care Coordination Initiative to ensure veterans can conveniently access non-VA care, both in North Dakota and around the nation.”

Providing Health Care, Extended Care Closer to Home

Hoeven’s Veterans Access to Long Term Care and Health Services Act would allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enter into provider agreements with qualified hospital, medical and extended care providers. This means providers, such as skilled nursing homes and in-home care services, would be able to accept veteran patients without having to comply with burdensome and oftentimes expensive federal contracting requirements. Hoeven’s bill was approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in 2015 and included in the Veterans First Act, a bipartisan measure introduced last Congress.

Hoeven said he will work with the new administration, including VA Secretary nominee Dr. David Shulkin, to implement his legislation, either through a standalone bill or the regulatory process.

Strengthening Veterans Choice

Hoeven worked with a wide range of federal and local officials, including veteran service officers and VA administrators, to secure and implement a new pilot program, the Veterans Care Coordination initiative. This initiative allows veterans seeking care through the Veterans 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. This has helped veterans in North Dakota and western Minnesota access care from a private health care provider in the community if they have experienced unacceptable waiting times or a VA medical center is inaccessible.

Due to the initiative, the average time from initial call to a scheduled community appointment decreased from nearly 24 days in April to four and a half days in December, according to an update provided to Hoeven by the Fargo VA. In addition, the new pilot program 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.

The Veterans Care Coordination initiative grew out of a series of meetings and listening roundtables Hoeven held with veterans around the state in both large and small communities, where they discussed a range of problems veterans were experiencing when working with Health Net to schedule and access health care. Problems included dropped appointments, long wait times, denied payments to eligible local providers and other obstacles to getting care. Following this, the senator secured a commitment from then-VA Secretary Bob McDonald to launch the pilot program to address the issue.

Hoeven will continue his efforts with his colleagues in the Senate as well as the new administration to improve services under Veterans Choice and use the initiative in Fargo as a model for the nation.