The House Committee on Veterans Affairs Nov. 18 held a hearing titled “Choice Consolidation: Assessing VA’s Plan to Improve Care in the Community.” The hearing follows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s delivery of the congressionally-mandated report, which AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., praised in a Nov. 5 statement [see Washington Highlights, Nov. 5].
The witness panel included VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, VA Undersecretary for Health David J. Shulkin, M.D., VA Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Community Care Baligh Yehia, M.D., and Heart of Texas Health Care Network (VISN 17) Network Director Joe Dalpiaz.
As the opening question, House VA Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) asked the panel what the VA could do without legislative action. Dr. Yehia outlined “quick hits” that the VA hopes to accomplish in the “next couple months,” including “streamlining the referral and authorization process” and “build[ing] on our Core Network” by “standardizing sharing agreements with our DOD partners and our academic affiliates.” Dr. Shulkin later characterized those Core agreements as the top priority.
When asked by Rep. Ralph Abraham, M.D., (R-La.) about VA Choice reimbursement rates, Dr. Yehia stated, “[W]hat we hope to do is move more towards regional Medicare rates, and those rates include calculations for graduate medical education, as you know, and, geographic rural areas.”
In response to a question from Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D., (D-Calif.) about relying on community physicians in underserved areas, Dr. Shulkin noted, “This is a significant problem for America. VA, I think, can bring to this several things. One is, thanks to your additional authorities in the Choice Act, you allowed us additional graduate medical education funding, and so for us to create partnerships with medical schools, and to create new GME spots that focus on the shortage areas and focus on the rural areas is absolutely top of mind for us.”
The Senate VA Committee is expected to hold its own hearing on the VA consolidation plan in December.