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Hoeven: Initiative will help veterans access health care closer to home

WASHINGTON--This week, we were pleased to announce a new pilot program, called the Veterans Care Coordination initiative. Effective Oct. 4, veterans seeking care through the Veterans Choice Program will now be able to coordinate all of their heal...

WASHINGTON-This week, we were pleased to announce a new pilot program, called the Veterans Care Coordination initiative. Effective Oct. 4, veterans seeking care through the Veterans Choice Program will now be able to coordinate all of their health care needs through the Fargo VA Medical Center rather than scheduling through Health Net, a third-party administrator headquartered in California.

The new initiative will make the Veteran Choice Program truly work for veterans as intended: it will allow them to receive timely access to health care services from a participating private 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 who had treated veterans under the Veterans Choice Program. That resulted in veterans dealing with a bureaucratic appeals process after their payment had been denied.

The new Veterans Care Coordination initiative will help veterans in North Dakota and western Minnesota access care anywhere in the state through the Veterans Choice Program. When VA facilities are not available or an appointment can't be made in a timely manner, instead of calling the contractor's call center in some other state, they can call the Fargo VA at 866-517-9363.

For example, the round-trip drive from Williston in western North Dakota to the VA Medical Center in Fargo is 800 miles, and the journey could be a hardship for someone who is sick and in need of medical care. Our new initiative could be a real blessing by making it easier to get local care. In addition, the Veterans Care Coordination initiative can benefit providers, too, because in the event of a problem, the Fargo VA can coordinate with Health Net to help improve provider reimbursements and reduce denials of veterans' claims.

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The Care Coordination initiative grew out of a series of veterans' listening sessions and roundtables I held around the state.

Beginning nearly a year ago in Williston, I heard about a range of problems veterans were having when trying to schedule and access health care through Health Net. Problems included dropped appointments, long wait times and other obstacles to getting care. I met with veterans in large cities like Fargo, Bismarck and Dickinson, as well as small communities like Bottineau and Steele, all encountering similar difficulties. I then spoke with VA Secretary Bob McDonald and secured a commitment from him to launch the pilot program to address the issue.

The whole concept of the Veterans Choice Program was to ensure our veterans were receiving timely access to health care services by allowing them to secure care locally. The new Veterans Care Coordination initiative will help to achieve that goal by making scheduling easier, timelier and more responsive to the needs of our veterans, therefore improving access to care. We believe it will serve as a model to address similar scheduling issues around the country.

Finally, I want to thank Lavonne Liversage, Fargo VA Health Care System director; Cheryl Andersen, clinical care resource manager; and Gene Migliaccio, doctor of public health and deputy chief business officer for purchased care for the VA in Washington, all of whom worked closely with me and my staff to get this pilot project off the ground.

The degree of cooperation, including regular conference calls and meetings over the past eight months, between the Fargo VA, VA Central and my office was truly extraordinary. And for good reason: our veterans were there for us when we needed them, and the least we can do is to be there for them when they need us.

Related Topics: VETERANSHEALTH
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