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Congress to consider VA provider agreement legislation

December 18, 2015
by Bob Gatty
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Bob Gatty

There is a good chance Congress will open the door for more veterans to obtain long-term care (LTC) near their homes at non-Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities when it is needed.

On Dec. 10, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee agreed on legislative provisions that will allow veterans to access such facilities as nursing centers, geriatric evaluation, domiciliary services, adult day health care, respite care, palliative care, hospice care and home health care.

The bill, which allows the VA to enter into provider agreements with LTC facilities, is expected to be considered by Congress in early 2016, according to committee sources.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., offered the amendment in committee, which included provisions from two bills sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

"Family, friends and community serve as a vital support network throughout our lives, and our veterans should not be forced to choose between being near loved ones and accessing the care they need," Hoeven says. "Our legislation will make more options available to our former service members who need long-term care services. That means better access to the benefits they have earned and a higher quality of life in their later years.

"[The legislation] will get rid of the red tape in order to make sure our veterans can access the services they need close to home. These common-sense reforms will impact a large number of our veterans and their families who are currently in need of better long-term care."

Duplicative reporting requirements and regulations administered by the Office of Federal Contracting Compliance Programs (OFCCP) have discouraged LTC facilities from admitting VA patients, thus depriving veterans of the opportunity to obtain care at those facilities. As of now, the same LTC facilities contracting with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are not subject to OFCCP regulations. The legislation would make the VA requirements for providers the same as they are for CMS.

"We thank Sens. Hoeven and Manchin for their focus on veterans’ care and working with Chairman Isakson," says Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association (AHCA). "We urge the full Senate to take up this important matter for the servicemen and women who have served our nation so bravely."

Further Congressional Action Needed

Now that the committee has approved the language clearing the way for VA provider agreements for extended care, advocates are determined to push it through Congress. Both the full House of Representatives and the Senate need to approve the measure, so there is still substantial work ahead.

"VA provider agreements are an example of how the government and the private sector can effectively work together for the benefit of veterans," says Clifton J. Porter II, senior vice president of government relations at AHCA. "We look forward to continuing to work with our congressional champions on this issue to get it across the finish line."

Last June, AHCA member Fred Benjamin, vice president and chief operating officer of Medicalodges in Coffeyville, Kan., testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He urged Congress to give VA the legislative authority to enter provider agreements similar to those used by Medicare.

"VA provider agreements will enhance access to needed services for veterans while reducing the expense and administrative burden of being classified as federal contractors for many providers," Benjamin says. The provider agreement will come "as a great relief to skilled care providers across the country."

Lobbying Effort to Continue

AHCA has been working with VA and Congress on the provider agreement issue for extended care services for several years, and Porter says that work will continue until the legislation is passed and signed into law.

The legislation appears to be an end-around pending regulations at the VA, which would allow for the alternative provider agreements, as reported in August. At that time, 109 members of the House sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald urging the release of that rule. Forty-three senators sent a similar bipartisan letter to McDonald in June.