Hoeven: Veterans Care Coordination Initiative Will Help Veterans Access Health Care Closer to Home

Senator Also Working to Pass Legislation Enabling Veterans to Secure Long-term-care Services Closer to Home and Loved Ones

WEST FARGO, N.D. – At a North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs conference today, Senator John Hoeven outlined a new pilot program he pressed to implement called the Veterans Care Coordination initiative. Effective October 4, veterans seeking care through the Veterans Choice Program are now able to coordinate all of their health care needs through the Fargo Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center rather than Health Net, a third party contractor headquartered in California.

“The whole idea of the Veterans Choice Act was to ensure our veterans were receiving timely access to health-care services by allowing them to secure care locally,” Hoeven said. “Our new pilot program will now reduce bureaucratic delays and confusion in scheduling appointments and make it easier for veterans to receive timely care. Similarly, legislation I introduced and am working to pass in the Senate will enable veterans who need long-term care to access those services nearer to home and loved ones.”

Making the Veterans Choice Program Work for Veterans

The Veteran Choice Program (VCP) allows veterans to receive needed care from a private health care provider in their community if they have experienced unacceptable waiting times or a VA medical center is inaccessible. Working with Health Net, veterans were experiencing dropped appointments, long wait times on the phone and other obstacles to obtaining care. Health Net, which is also contracted to make provider reimbursements, was also declining or delaying payments to local providers treating veterans eligible for the Veterans Choice Program. That resulted in veterans getting payments denied and forcing them to deal with a bureaucratic appeals process.

The new Veterans Care Coordination initiative will help veterans in North Dakota and western Minnesota access care in the community when a VA facility or timely appointment is not available. For example, Hoeven said, it’s an 800 mile round-trip drive from Williston in western North Dakota to the VA Medical Center in Fargo. In addition, the new pilot program arranges to have a Health Net staff member at the Fargo VA so providers can work with with the Fargo VA to improve provider reimbursements and reduce denials of veterans’ claims. Health Net’s new electronic billing system should also reduce errors and payment denials.

The Veterans Care Coordination initiative grew out of a series of veterans’ listening sessions and roundtables Hoeven held around the state. Beginning nearly a year ago in Williston, he heard about 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 and other obstacles to getting care.

The senator met with veterans in large cities like Fargo, Bismarck and Dickinson, as well as small communities like Bottineau and Steele, all encountering similar problems. The senator then secured a commitment from VA Secretary Bob McDonald to launch the pilot program to address the issue.

Hoeven worked closely with Lavonne Liversage, Fargo VA Health Care System Director; Cheryl Andersen, Clinical Care Resource Manager; Dr. Breton Weintraub, Chief of Staff at the VA Medical Center; and Gene Migliaccio, Dr.P.H., Deputy Chief Business Officer for Purchased Care for the VA. Hoeven also worked to gather input from state and local officials, including Lonnie Wangen, Commissioner N.D. Veteran’s Affairs; Grant Carns, Williams County Veterans Service Officer; and Dan Thorstad, Cass County VSO, who attended Hoeven’s announcement of the new pilot program in Fargo.

The Veterans First Act

Hoeven is also working on a national level with his colleagues to pass the bipartisan Veterans First Act, legislation that will increase accountability at the VA and improve veterans’ health care services and benefits. The measure strengthens the Veterans Choice Program, enhances educational opportunities for veterans and their families and helps veterans transition into the job market.

In addition, the legislation includes a Hoeven measure that would facilitate greater health care services for veterans in both rural and urban communities by allowing the VA to enter into provider agreements with qualified hospital, medical and extended care providers.

The provision is similar to his Veterans Access to Long Term Care and Health Services Act, which was approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in December. The legislation would enable skilled nursing homes and in-home care providers to accept veteran patients without having to comply with burdensome and oftentimes expensive federal contracting requirements.