- The head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wants to expand use of private sector providers in veterans’ healthcare, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- In an interview with the Journal, VA Secretary David Shulkin said he’d like to increase competition between the VA’s health system and private-sector providers. His view reflects that of the conservative Koch brothers, who are pushing to privatize veterans’ health.
- “The direction I’m taking this is to give veterans more choice in their care and be the decision maker for their care, which I fundamentally believe is a concept that has to be implemented,” Shulkin said.
The VA has been moving toward more consumer choice for some time. Under President Barack Obama, the agency initiated MyVA Access with goals such as same-day access for mental health and primary care services when medically necessary at all VA medical centers. The VA also launched a smart phone app to help veterans manage their appointments.
There has also been a major focus on telehealth. In May, the VA announced plans to open five telemental health centers. The agency has been providing telehealth services to more than 677,000 veterans, or about 12% of the 5.6 million vets who get their healthcare through the VA.
The agency also announced a series of telehealth and mobile application initiatives to expand access to care and enable veterans to get healthcare at home. The programs — Anywhere to Anywhere VA Care, VA Video Connect and the Veteran Appointment Request app — aim to increase mental health and rural care. And last month, the VA released a proposed rule that would let healthcare providers treat patients remotely anywhere, regardless of state telehealth laws.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, which provides $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program. The program pays for private-sector care for veterans who don’t have ready access to VA hospitals and clinics.
The VA has been working for several years to resolve issues around excessive wait times across its healthcare system.
Shulkin told the Journal that the expansion of private-sector care would be gradual, with the goal of veterans one day not having to get VA approval to seek care outside the system. The aim is ensure quality care within the VA, and encourage vets to seek outside care for “commodity” services like podiatry and audiology, which are more affordable to outsource, he said.