(DALLAS) - The issue of veterans’ access to timely health care returned to the American Medical Association House of Delegates this weekend in a far more positive light than it enjoyed five months ago.
In June, in the wake of scandals over excessive wait times in the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) health care system, the AMA House pushed for President Barack Obama and Congress to make it easier for private practice physicians to care for VA patients. The Texas Medical Association was at the forefront of that fight, led by TMA Delegation Vice Chair Asa Lockhart, MD, of Tyler.
The president has replaced his VA secretary with former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald, and Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. That law will pay private health care providers $10 billion to treat veterans who cannot get VA appointments within 30 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility. Another $5 billion will help the VA hire new doctors, nurses, and other medical staff.
The AMA House convened this weekend in Dallas for its first meeting since that debate. Secretary McDonald spent an hour telling delegates about changes in his agency and answering physicians’ questions. From May through September, he said. the agency saw a 46-percent increase in care provided by non-VA physicians; more than 1 million veterans saw doctors outside of the VA system.
The secretary also said the VA is working to reduce the hassles many community physicians have experienced in trying provide care to veterans covered by the VA.
“We need you to participate in the program,” he said. “We know you won’t if it’s too much trouble.”
We caught up with Dr. Lockhart after Secretary McDonald’s speech. He was favorably impressed. “I really see the promise of a bright new day for the veterans’ health system,” he said.