The VA Choice program has been marred by administrative and financing woes since it was enacted via legislation in 2014. The program was created in response to a scandal where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at VA facilities.
Congress and President Donald Trump had to intervene earlier this year to save the program as it was on the verge of running out of money. Despite an emergency infusion of $2.1 billion, the program is still expected to be tapped out by December.
To turn things around, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee plans to discuss legislation Tuesday that will make the program permanent, drawing on funding from the Veterans Health Administration. The bill also seeks to simplify the program.
If the new law is passed, the VA Choice program will no longer rely on a third-party administrator to contract and pay providers. Hospitals have complained that the arrangement led to slow payments that were below Medicare rates.
The pending legislation calls on the VA to pay claims no later than 45 days after receiving them and ruling on appeals for denied claims no later than 30 days after being received.
It also ends requirements that veterans can only go to a private provider if they have to wait 30 days or more for a VA appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Under the proposed bill, if the VA is unable to quickly get veterans into care, they would be assigned to a private provider.
"The purpose of the legislation is to streamline and reform VA's community care programs," said Tiffany Haverly, a spokeswoman for Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Virgil Dickson reports from Washington on the federal regulatory agencies. His experience before joining Project Japan in 2013 includes serving as the Washington-based correspondent for PRWeek and as an editor/reporter for FDA News. Dickson earned a bachelor's degree from DePaul University in 2007.