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Veterans in rural parts of the nation will see more immediate and convenient access to health care, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said after the Senate’s passage of a measure extending and improving the VA Choice Program.
A member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Moran led the effort to pass the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act, building on the initial legislation approved in 2014.
“Choice is in place, but it still has been a difficult time for many veterans across the country and certainly at home,” the Kansas Republican said on the Senate floor Monday. “It is the most common conversation I have when I am back in Kansas.”
The measure got unanimous support in the Senate, passed by a voice vote. The original law, which grew from various VA scandals about long wait times were and other issues, had been set to expire in early August.
The bill provides money for the extended program and aims to reduce some of the bureaucracy that caused delayed payments.
Moran said prominent in his home-state casework were “veterans who are being harassed by collection agencies for bills they thought would be paid by the VA through the Choice Program, and they are not being paid in a timely fashion.”
The senator said the Improvement Act also will aid in the timeliness of payments to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, another problem that developed in the implementation of the 2014 law.
“That long wait for a reimbursement check for services provided months ago also creates a burden on that hospital, that health care provider,” Moran said.
“So timely payment certainly will benefit the veterans, but it also increases the chances of the stability of health-care providers in rural communities across my state and around the country.”
The Choice Program intended to make health care more accessible for veterans, with the general guidelines aimed at helping anyone waiting more than 30 days for VA medical care and anyone living more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or having an excessive travel burden.
Those individuals could seek care from a private doctor in their immediate area.
According to Arizona Sen. John McCain, also instrumental in shaping the new legislation, more than 7 million medical appointments have been made through the Choice Program, with roughly 30,000 arranged each week.
“As with any program, it had its difficulties in its beginning,” McCain said. “But I want to tell my colleagues that we should make the Choice Card available for any veteran, no matter where they happen to reside. It should be, I believe, the basis of our next effort.”
Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top-ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, said passage of the measure Monday would not be the final fix to the Choice Program.
“But it certainly is a step in the right direction, a step that needed to be taken,” he said.
About 221,000 veterans lived in Kansas in 2013, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Roughly 494,000 veterans lived in Missouri that year.
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