Congress created the new choice card program last November to reduce patient wait times to get medical attention.
The card gives veterans like Terie Hynish, who have been waiting more than 30 days for appointments or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, the chance to see a private doctor. But Hynish, a retired senior chief petty officer in Navy, said the choice card program gave her the run around for weeks.
Hynish lost faith in the card after she says the VA's third-party administrator sent her to the wrong doctor, one who didn’t even perform the procedure she needed.
Several thousand veteran patients out of the 108,000 treated at Bay Pines qualified for the program since last November, but the VA tells us they only recently began tracking complaints. On average the VA says Bay Pines receives about seven calls per day about the program.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis sits on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The VA admits there's issues and told me they made several recent changes to streamline the process. The VA gave ABC Action News the following statement:
While VA is taking active steps to improve the Choice Program for Veterans nationally, the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System continues to employ strategies to improve the program locally within our span of control. We are doing this by partnering with the program’s third party administrator, Health Net, to streamline administrative processes. Through these efforts, we aim to improve customer service and also reduce the time it takes for Veterans to obtain community health care provider appointments for routine care.Veteran feedback about the program has been mixed. Some Veterans praise the program, while others voice concerns and constructive input. On average, the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System receives seven telephone calls per day about the program. Most inquiries center on the appointment process and program navigation. When any inquiry is received, we work to resolve concerns and answer questions as quickly as possible. We actively engage our partners at Health Net for their support in addressing program inquiries. The majority of the inquiries we receive are related to appointment scheduling, so it is imperative that we connect Veterans with third party administrator representatives to resolve concerns and facilitate care that is needed.Since the Choice Program began in November 2014, Bay Pines VA Healthcare system has had an estimated 9,000 community appointments that have been scheduled through the Choice Program. This is low in comparison to the over 33,000 Veteran appointments deemed eligible for the program based on the 30 day wait criteria. Many of our Veterans choose to keep their VA appointment. To put this into context, our healthcare system (Bay Pines specifically), completed 1.4 million VA appointments in 2015 and served nearly 108,000 Veterans across southwest Florida. More than 98 percent of all appointments were completed within 30 days of the Veterans’ clinically indicated date.
Donnie West, who spent seven years in the Marines, said he's still waiting to see the improvements. West said he spent over two months waiting to see a private doctor after the VA enrolled him in the choice card program.
The VA authorizes paperwork and approvals while the third-party provider arranges for the appointments. The veterans we've spoken to say they've experienced problems with both sides of the process.
Congressman Bilirakis says if the VA doesn't fix the flaws with the choice card program he'll introduce legislation that will.