LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A major, bipartisan effort is about to reform health care for veterans across Arkansas as the Mission Act allows men and women who served their country to get treated privately, outside the V.A. hospital system.
Getting stuck inside the siloed world of the V.A. is something that has frustrated veterans in recent years and the Mission Act passed out of Congress last year as the beleaguered administration emerged from years of scandals.
“It's a tremendous amount of change, and this has been an evolution of care over the last several years,” said Dr. John Gocio, the chief of staff for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System’s care in the community department.
“The time it takes for the volume of care that's delivered, there were standards that VA imposed upon itself that we were not meeting.”
The reforms tied together several programs that tried to deal with veterans facing long travel times to V.A. centers. The headline solution became allowing vets to access private care and get the V.A. to cover it, no matter where they live.
In just a few days since going into place, Gocio's department has gone from an average of $180,000 dollars in care a day to $1 million.
“Under the Mission Act, it's really broadened the playing field for providing care in the community,” Gocio said. “It’s clearly very popular.”
Another possible game-changer of the effort is the way it forces the V.A. to compete. Administrators know that if patients can choose to get care closer to home and at local urgent care clinics, they may choose to stay away from the big V.A. centers.
“It has really narrowed the margin for the patients, the veterans' ability to ask for care in the community,” Gocio said. “It’s caused us to step our game up.”
Some are worried that the Mission Act feels like the V.A. is evolving into an insurance company. It does feature tiered levels of care. There might be co-pays or some out-of-pocket costs.
But Dr. Gocio says he thinks many vets will still want the centralized care the V.A. provides, and many might find out the grass isn't exactly greener on the private health care side.
It may also help drive down prices for everyone as a new stream of customers with a reliable payer the size of the V.A. opens up the health care market.
“I think we're putting some new customers out in the arena that now have health care coverage and they'll be paid for service,” he said.