Merkley presses VA Secretary on privatization

Senator pushes to ensure that all veterans receive timely, high-quality care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today pressed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie on whether new efforts to expand the privatization of VA health care could diminish resources and harm care at the VA facilities many veterans rely on.

Merkley’s letter to Secretary Wilkie follows new, proposed standards for the VA’s Care in the Community Program that were published on January 30.

“I fully support ensuring that all veterans are able to access care they need and deserve, and support veterans seeking private care should it be medically necessary or if  the quality of private care exceeds that of VA care,” wrote Merkley. “However, I share the concerns of a number of veteran service organizations (VSOs) who are worried that increasing the pool of veterans eligible for private care will come at the expense of traditional VA care. I have also heard from my constituents who are concerned that this approach risks a slippery slope towards privatization. That outcome is unacceptable.”

Merkley asked for Wilkie to provide answers to the following questions:

·         Please provide an estimate for how much it will cost to provide private care under the proposed access standards for the Care in the Community Program over the next five years.

·         Will the VA prioritize funding the Care in the Community Program over traditional VA care? How will you ensure that Care in the Community funding will not be diverted from the VA?

·         Have you done an evaluation of the impact on funding for traditional VA care? If so, please provide me with that information.

·         If an evaluation has not been conducted, will you commit to publishing an evaluation of the impact?

o   That evaluation should include the amount of funds that would be diverted from the Veterans Health Administration to pay for the Care in the Community Program and what services would be eliminated from VA care to fund the Care in the Community Program.

·         Have you negotiated a fee schedule with private providers to ensure that taxpayers are not subsidizing private care at exorbitant prices? What cost controls are in place to prevent cost overrun?

The full text of the letter follows below.

###

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

I am writing in response to the proposed access standards published on January 30, 2019 that outline under what circumstances a veteran will be eligible to receive private care under the new Care in the Community Program. While I support initiatives that ensure that veterans receive timely and quality health care, I am concerned that expanding the number of veterans eligible for private care will divert funding from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and drain the resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

I fully support ensuring that all veterans are able to access care they need and deserve, and support veterans seeking private care should it be medically necessary or if the quality of private care exceeds that of VA care. However, I share the concerns of a number of veteran service organizations (VSOs) who are worried that increasing the pool of veterans eligible for private care will come at the expense of traditional VA care. I have also heard from my constituents who are concerned that this approach risks a slippery slope towards privatization. That outcome is unacceptable.

To this end, I am seeking answers to questions about the financial impacts of the proposed access standards and want to ensure that the VA remains able to provide care for veterans.

·         Please provide an estimate for how much it will cost to provide private care under the proposed access standards for the Care in the Community Program over the next five years.

·         Will the VA prioritize funding the Care in the Community Program over traditional VA care? How will you ensure that Care in the Community funding will not be diverted from the VA?

·         Have you done an evaluation of the impact on funding for traditional VA care? If so, please provide me with that information.

·         If an evaluation has not been conducted, will you commit to publishing an evaluation of the impact?

o   That evaluation should include the amount of funds that would be diverted from the Veterans Health Administration to pay for the Care in the Community Program and what services would be eliminated from VA care to fund the Care in the Community Program.

·         Have you negotiated a fee schedule with private providers to ensure that taxpayers are not subsidizing private care at exorbitant prices? What cost controls are in place to prevent cost overrun?

I look forward to answers to my questions, and working with you to ensure our nation’s veterans receive the best care they deserve while upholding your commitment not to privatize the VA. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.