Why Did VA Approve Hundreds of Ineligible Doctors?

Pexels-karolina-grabowska-4386233Lawmakers are demanding reforms in how the Department of Veterans Affairs screens outside doctors for patient medical care, after a recent Government Accountability Office review found the department’s referral list contains about 1,600 providers who are ineligible to treat veterans, including 601 who are dead, reports Military Times’ recent article entitled “VA approved thousands of ineligible doctors — now lawmakers want changes.”

“While [the list] represents a small percentage of the Veterans Community Care Program’s roughly 1.2 million active providers, they represent potential threats to veteran health and safety and risks for financial fraud,” a group of representatives wrote in a letter to VA health officials. “We urge VA to review all ineligible providers identified by GAO and, as appropriate, deactivate them in the Community Care Network so veterans are not referred to them for care.”

The request was authored by Representatives Chris Pappas, D-N.H.; Tracey Mann, R-Kansas; Julia Brownley, D-Calif.; and Jack Bergman, R-Mich. The letter comes amid increasing scrutiny of VA’s Community Care Program, which allows veterans to receive care from private-sector physicians but have the appointments paid for with taxpayer money.

The program has been a key part of VA health care for decades. However, recently conservatives have pushed to expand it dramatically amid questions about long wait times and specialist shortages at some VA medical centers. Critics of that plan have said that department officials need to improve their oversight of Community Care providers first and make sure they’re meeting the same medical standards and expectations of VA physicians. The latest GAO review appears to support that argument, saying that VA officials failed to exclude a small but significant number of ineligible providers from the program.

Along with 601 deceased physicians, the list included 216 active providers with revoked medical licenses and 796 who have surrendered their medical licenses in response to an investigation.

One provider had a nursing license expire in 2016, was arrested for assault in 2018 and convicted of patient abuse in 2019. Nonetheless, this nurse was still added to the Community Care list later in 2019, a move that VA officials have now said was a clerical error.

“The vulnerabilities we identified … indicate that veterans may potentially be at risk of receiving care from unqualified providers,” the GAO report states.

VA officials in response said that they will enact reforms with improvements in the periodic checks of provider credentials.

Reference: Military Times (Jan. 18, 2022) “VA approved thousands of ineligible doctors — now lawmakers want changes”

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