GAO: Veterans' access to primary care lacking
- The Government Accountability Office's (GAO) new report found not all newly enrolled veterans were able to access primary care from the Department of Veteran Affairs' Veterans Health Administration (VHA), while others experienced wide variations in appointment wait times.
- There were 180 newly enrolled veterans in the agency's review of which 60 had not been seen by providers at the time of the review. Almost half were unable to access primary care because VA staff did not schedule appointments according to policy, and 120 newly enrolled vets who were seen by providers waited from 22 to 71 days from appointment requests to when they were seen.
- The time delays were affected by limited appointment availability and weaknesses in medical center scheduling practices, according to the GAO.
There are 380,000 newly enrolled veterans in VHA's health system every year, according to GAO. Primary care serves as the front line of care for most veterans.
GAO was asked to examine VHA's efforts to provide timely access to primary care services and in doing so, interviewed officials from six VA medical centers and randomly selected medical records of 180 newly enrolled veterans. The agency also interviewed VHA and other medical officials on oversight of access to primary care then evaluated VHA's oversight compared to relevant federal standards for internal control.
Based on its report, GAO recommended that the VHA:
- Ensures veterans requesting appointments are contacted in a timely manner for scheduling;
- Monitors the full amount of time newly enrolled veterans wait to receive primary care;
- Issues an updated scheduling policy.
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) agreed with all these recommendations, and identified its actions to implement them.
Earlier this month, Healthcare Dive reported on a USA Today analysis that revealed supervisors at VA medical centers across at least seven states instructed staff to falsify patient wait times. In addition, more than 480,000 veterans had been waiting more than a month to see a provider as of March 15.