Shaheen Tells VA Secretary: End the Veterans Choice Reimbursement Delays

January 14, 2016

(Washington, DC)—This afternoon, Senator Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert McDonald calling on him to cut the administrative red tape that’s leading to delayed payments to healthcare providers for the care they’re administering to New Hampshire veterans through the Veterans Choice program. Her letter follows the recent announcement made by PainCare, which operates 11 clinics in New Hampshire, that it will no longer participate in Veterans Choice as of February 1st due to the administrative hurdles at the VA that prevent timely reimbursement.

Senator Shaheen’s letter reads in part, “These delays are not only inconsistent with federal law, they have also undermined confidence in the Veterans Choice Card program among veterans, providers, and the general public … As you know, the VA is required under federal law to promptly repay private health care providers that serve veterans under authorized VA programs.”

The letter continues, “I urge you to take immediate steps to comprehensively review the VA’s payment processes and procedures, and take any necessary action to address these ongoing issues in New Hampshire.  In particular, I urge you to review whether it is necessary under the law for the VA to withhold all reimbursements through the Choice Card program until providers have returned medical records for each appointment.”

New Hampshire is the only state in the continental U.S. without a full service VA hospital, and Senator Shaheen has worked to expand options for NH veterans seeking to receive care closer to home. In 2014, Senator Shaheen worked to include a provision in the VA reform bill that allows most New Hampshire veterans the option to seek care from local non-VA health care providers in New Hampshire, rather than having to travel long distances to receive VA services out of state. The senator has expressed concerns with the VA's roll-out of the Choice Card program in New Hampshire.

Senator Shaheen is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Shaheen is also a member of the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the VA budget. 

The full text of Senator Shaheen’s letter to Secretary McDonald is included below and is available here.  

Dear Secretary McDonald:

I write to express serious concern with reports of ongoing delays in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) repayment of private health care providers in New Hampshire.  These delays are not only inconsistent with federal law, they have also undermined confidence in the Veterans Choice Card program among veterans, providers, and the general public.  I urge you to take immediate action to address this issue. 

I have recently received reports from health care providers and facilities in New Hampshire that are facing significant financial burden due to delayed reimbursements by the VA.  Press reports have indicated that PainCare, a health care provider in Somersworth, New Hampshire, is currently awaiting almost $70,000 in outstanding payments from the VA.  As a result, the company is no longer accepting Choice Card patients. 

Given the recent staffing reductions in the Manchester VA Medical Center pain management center, losing the ability to attend a local provider is particularly burdensome for the many veterans who have been receiving treatment at PainCare.  Moreover, this is exactly the kind of situation the Veterans Choice Card Program was designed to prevent.       

As you know, the VA is required under federal law to promptly repay private health care providers that serve veterans under authorized VA programs.  Moreover, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 specifically directs the VA to ensure prompt payment through the Choice Card program.  However, despite Congressional attention to the issue, the VA continues to fall short of its legal requirements. 

I urge you to take immediate steps to comprehensively review the VA’s payment processes and procedures, and take any necessary action to address these ongoing issues in New Hampshire.  In particular, I urge you to review whether it is necessary under the law for the VA to withhold all reimbursements through the Choice Card program until providers have returned medical records for each appointment.

The Veterans Choice Card program offers enormous benefits to veterans by providing them with the option to receive care in their local communities.  However, if health care providers choose not to participate because of the VA’s inability to fully implement the law, the Choice Card program will be put at risk.  This is an unacceptable outcome, and we must do everything possible to immediately address the issue.   

Thank you for your continued service to our nation.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen

United States Senator