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Public-private partnerships improve veterans’ access to care

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Two years ago, leaders in Congress gave Veterans facing long waits or who were forced to travel long distances to receive care the option to receive health care from non-VA community care providers under the Veterans Choice Act of 2014. It created a partnership between VA and community care providers that gives Veterans a choice to seek care from a community provider when VA is unable to deliver timely quality care directly. While there is still work to be done with the program, a lot of progress has been made, including improving access and timeliness of care for Veterans. 

As mandated by Congress under the Choice Act, the Commission on Care issued its report this month providing recommendations to transform the way VA provides health care to our nation’s Veterans. As this report generates debate about the way forward, it is important that we acknowledge some basic facts about the unique role VA plays in providing Veterans the care they have earned and how the Choice Program supports that vitally important mission.

{mosads}It is well established that VA provides high quality care, especially when it comes to treating the most grievous wounds of war, both seen and unseen. That should not change. Dismantling VA and privatizing care is the wrong prescription, and it breaks our nation’s promises to our Veterans. At the same time, the fundamental issue that caused the access crisis – the ever increasing demand for care from Veterans of all eras – remains the challenge today. That is why TriWest Healthcare Alliance is partnering with VA to help them serve our nation’s Veterans better and faster through the Choice Program. By working together, we ensure Veterans receive high-quality care in the community when they cannot be seen directly by VA on a timely or geographically convenient basis.

There is still more that must be done in order to achieve the effective and efficient end state we all envision for Veterans under the Choice program, but make no mistake – progress is being made. Across all categories of care, the average number of days to make an appointment with a TriWest provider is under 3; and the average number of days to the first completed appointment with one of these network providers is 16. Program knowledge and usage is growing, with more and more Veterans receiving increased access to high-quality health care from the community over time under the Choice program.

Every month, TriWest handles nearly one million phone calls for Veterans’ health care. And, in the 28 states we are privileged to serve at the side of VA, 180,000 community providers have now handled more than 1 million appointments for Veterans.  More than 120,000 Veterans from our part of the country receive care closer to home, a dramatic 6,000% increase from the 2,000 served at the start of the program last year. And, we are processing 95% of clean claims to our community providers within 30 days. That is real, tangible progress for our nation’s veterans.

A successful Choice program depends on teamwork and collaboration between VA, TriWest, and the community care providers, all of whom are leaning forward to support Veterans. The future of Choice is in all of our hands. Some would like to end the new public-private partnership and just return to the old ways of doing things at VA. Others would like to totally privatize VA. Both miss the mark.

I would submit that this public-private model of care is the right course for the future to deliver care for Veterans in both urban and rural areas nation-wide.  Just like the Defense Department’s now successful Tricare program, this public-private partnership is critical for those who stood up and put on the uniform. It keeps our nation’s promise of access to care for Veterans regardless of where they live. As program improvements are gaining ground, more and more Veterans are served each day. Now is not the time to abandon this progress and break those promises.

If we keep working together to build on the strengths of VA, we will continue to improve and better serve those who have served our nation so well. Veterans deserve no less.

David J. McIntyre, Jr., is President and CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which is working to ensure that Veterans in 28 states have access to high-quality health care when it is unable to be provided directly by VA.


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