The Veterans Choice Program on April 25 will begin using driving distance to determine the distance between a veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility, according to an interim final rule issued April 24 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The department said the change “will allow more veterans to participate in the program and receive care closer to home.”
While Congress intended the Veterans Choice program to expand access to health care for veterans, the previous straight-line distance standard has limited participation in the program to well below projections, the agency said. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 requires the VA to enter into agreements with eligible non-VA entities or providers to furnish hospital care and medical services to eligible veterans who elect to receive care under the program.
Eligibility criteria include living more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. In written comments last month, the American Hospital Association expressed concern that the VA’s interpretation of the 40-mile criterion unreasonably restricts many veterans’ ability to access health care, and offered suggestions for improving the program with respect to the mileage requirement, as well as timely payment of claims and contracting to provide care.
The department said it intends to publish a single final rule that responds to comments received from both the new and previous rules. The new rule will be published in the April 25th Federal Register, with comments accepted for 30 days.