Moran, Hoeven praise president signing bill to extend Veterans Choice Program

President Donald Trump signed bipartisan legislation into law on Wednesday that gives veterans access to private health care providers by extending the Veterans Choice Program, drawing praise from bill cosponsors U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and John Hoeven (R-ND).

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Choice Program had been scheduled to sunset in August, but enactment of the new legislation extends the program until its $950 million in initial appropriations are exhausted.

The Veterans Choice Program was established under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 following a national wait-time scandal at the VA. It allows veterans who live 40 miles or more from a VA facility, or who have to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment, to seek care from a non-VA community health care provider.

Moran and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was an original cosponsor of the bill, wrote in an op-ed appearing on that despite growing pains accompanying the program’s fast implementation, the program has helped improve access to health care for veterans across the nation.

“In fact, since the inception of Choice, more than seven million appointments have been scheduled with community providers for medical services ranging from diagnostic tests and physical therapy to life-saving heart and cancer care,” McCain and Moran wrote. “Given that the Veterans Choice Program was authorized and funded through emergency measures, it also carried a looming end date. The VA has been preparing to limit medical services under the Choice Program for veterans whose treatments would extend beyond the program’s August 2017 expiration.”

The Veterans Choice Improvement Act eliminates the program’s August sunset date, it enables the VA to serve as the primary payer of the program to address difficulties providers faced in receiving payments, and it streamlines the sharing of medical records between the VA and community providers.

Approximately 1.5 million veterans will continue to have access to care through 350,000 community providers under the Veterans Choice Program.

“In addition, Congress will now have more time to work with the new VA secretary to determine what the next iteration of access to community providers through the VA ought to look like,” the senators wrote. “A consolidated and integrated network of community providers is critical for the VA to reduce the burden on those who have sacrificed for their nation and are seeking access to the care they earned through the VA.”

Hoeven said the measure is part of Congress’ ongoing efforts to expand veteran access to health care closer to their homes.

“Our veterans deserve high-quality care, that’s why we worked to implement the Veterans Care Coordination Initiative at the Fargo VA, which has helped ensure timely appointments for veterans in our state,” Hoeven said. “We continue working to build on this progress and improve health care for veterans across the country.”

Hoeven previously worked to secure the Veterans Care Coordination Initiative, which enables veterans participating in the Choice Program to coordinate care through the Fargo VA Medical Center instead of a third-party contractor located in California. The initiative has helped reduce the average time from initial call to scheduled appointment from approximately 24 days to 4.5 days in December.