It’s official! President Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act that we discussed in detail last week into law this past Thursday, August 7, at a ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The law provides funding for measures intended to decrease wait times at VA facilities, including Veteran’s Choice Cards, which will enable veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility to receive care from civilian providers.
This provision of the law is likely to be the first to go into effect, but before you get too excited, remember that this card will not be an unlimited credit card to be used whenever and wherever you want. The Veteran’s Choice Card comes with plenty of restrictions.
First, the funding for this program is considered emergency funding which the VA can use on an ‘as needed’ basis to purchase health care from providers outside the VA network if the veteran faces a long wait time for VA care. The VA gets to decide on a case-by-case basis if this is ‘needed.’
Second, you must have been enrolled in the VA system by August 1 of this year to be eligible to receive a card. If you enroll after that date, you must have been on active duty in a combat theater sometime within the last 5 years.
Third, the card will be used less like a credit card and more like an insurance identity card to allow non-VA providers to check a veteran’s eligibility to receive care that a VA care coordinator has pre-approved and pre-arranged. Essentially this means that you will have to have a referral to receive non-VA care, and that the VA will arrange this care for you.
Fourth, you may or may not get to choose your non-VA care provider. These providers are limited to DoD facilities, Community Health Care facilities, Indian Health Care facilities, and private providers who accept Medicare. All of these providers have the right to refuse to accept the card just as they can choose to refuse Medicare, mostly because of the long waits for reimbursement.
Even with these restrictions on the use of the Veteran’s Choice Cards, the good news is that changes ARE finally coming to the VA! For full details about the rest of the changes that will be enacted with this law, see our news article from last week.