VA’s Choice Program to Need Cash Soon

Washington Report

(October 3, 2017) The Department of Veterans Program that allows veterans to receive health care from private providers will once again be in need of funding soon.

The Choice program was funded in August with $2.1 billion from Congress that was supposed to take it into 2018. But the agency says that money could run out by the end of this year or soon after, according to the Associated Press.

“They only funded us for half a year,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told reporters last week.

The program dates to 2014 when Congress created it in the wake of reports of long waiting times for appointments at VA facilities. Lawmakers provided $10 billion for the program. Through Choice, veterans who must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or travel more than 40 miles to a VA facility are allowed to seek care from private providers and essentially send the bill to VA.

VA officials said last week the agency is spending $280 million a month on the program.

Shulkin said a legislative answer is necessary, saying recently in a speech to veterans in Pennsylvania, “This fall, our major legislative focus is getting the Choice programs working right.”

A proposal under review at the White House budget office would maintain the program for much of next year, according to news reports.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants more answers, however. He wrote to Shulkin last week seeking a detailed accounting of the Choice program. When Congress approved the money in August, he wrote, lawmakers were told the funds would last well into 2018.

“We said at the time that it was essential, given the growing demand for care under the Choice program, that the VA immediately correct the failures that created such a serious shortfall,” he wrote. “It appears as if you have not done so.”