The Texas Medical Association Wants to Pair Vets with Private Docs in Wake of VA Scandal

Categories: Healthcare

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Terry Ross
The Texas Medical Association is launching an online registry to recruit private physicians as an alternative to VA medical centers
Dr. Austin King runs a private practice out of Abilene, and he's been seeing veteran patients for years. Recently, one veteran came into the office with a neck cyst. After ordering a biopsy for the man, who is in his 80s, King, who's president of the Texas Medical Association, ordered pain medication for him. That's where he ran into the red tape mess that has become synonymous with the VA hospital system.

The man, feeble enough, could not get down to the local VA clinic to fill his prescription. But in order to get his medication to him, King found that he would have to fax the prescription to a VA medical facility in Big Spring, Texas, and the facility would then mail the medicine to the man. By then, of course, several days would have passed while the man was meanwhile in a significant amount of pain.

"I have to feel a little sorry for the VA system because I think they're overwhelmed. It was originally set up to handle service-injury people, but thats now been extended to every person that's been honorably discharged, and that's a tremendous amount of people that puts a strain on the system," King says. "I think the VA in most instances gives very good care, but sometimes it's not the most efficient way to give it."

King has recently helped launch an online registry to recruit private care physicians who are willing to see veterans. The program is intended to act as a placeholder alternative to the VA system for veteran patients, circumventing the system to provide other options for veterans who cannot put off medical needs legislative action reforms the system.

After stories started coming out this spring about long wait times for veterans in the VA healthcare system, medical organizations in Texas have been actively promoting statewide healthcare alternatives for veterans. Most veterans, under their governmental health plans, are limited to VA hospitals and clinics for their medical needs. But if private care physicians register to accept veteran patients through the TMA, a veteran can be referred to them as an alternative to VA medical centers. TMA's registry has already registered around 100 doctors today, and the TMA has received a barrage of calls from doctors willing to help in other ways.

The move comes after evidence mounts that physicians are increasingly unwilling to work with government medical organizations, including the VA hospital system. Dallas-based physician recruiting company Medicus Firm reports that only 2.5 percent of doctors nationwide want to work with government-sponsored medical organizations. King says physicians are often frustrated with the red-tape and rules surrounding patient care. "The VA system is a bureaucracy where one rule is made and it's supposed to work for everybody. But as physicians we're used to tailoring to the needs of our patients with individual attention."

An VA system audit showed that approximately 60,000 veterans are currently facing longer than normal wait periods in the VA hospital system. According to a survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins, an Irving-based medical consulting company, veteran patients at the Dallas VA Medical Center face an average 60 day wait period, in comparison to five days for private citizens.

To King and his fellow Texas doctors, recent media attention surrounding VA system wait times was hardly news. King reports that Abilene veterans can go to the local clinic for basic needs, but if they need specialist care they must travel to Albuquerque. With some World War II veterans in his care, King says that such lengthy time and travel for medical care is impossible.

"Until the VA system can guarantee that every patient can access that system, we need to look at other options," he says. "And I think the registry is a good alternative option."

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21 comments
bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

This new push to outsource VA work to expensive, private doctors is a bad idea.  It would be much better for the Republican Congress to fund the VA directly - so they can hire the doctors and staff they need in the first place.  If they'd do that, then the delays discussed in this article would go away.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Remember when we were told that single-payer would be such a paradise because the entire medical system would be just like the VA?

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

My personal opinion is that the VA should go back to treating those with service related injuries. Everybody else would get 100% vouchers for up to silver level on the insurance exchanges.

For those with service related injuries, the VA has top notch specialists and experience with the issues directly related to those injuries. That's the reason I say to not get rid of it entirely.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Docs with vets? So you can get your pet treated at the same place?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Abolish the VA Hospital system.

Issue vouchers for use in the civilian healthcare system.

But there goes another City of Dallas real estate development (ha!).

Greg820
Greg820

@Tim.Covington I could not agree more. The VA's mission has strayed from taking care of service-related injuries and illnesses to caring for all veterans with age-related issues. With the current rate of ageing veterans, it is physically impossible to build VA medical centers to handle this increasing demand. Let the VA focus on sercive-connected issues and give discounted insurance to non-service connected veterans. 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I hear that Vet schools demand higher MCAT scores than med schools. Our pets have the better doctors.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

That was my suggestion when UP ran its first item on the VA backlog scandal, but according to some, issuing vouchers would bust the VA budget. It's a mess.

But on the upside/big picture, as our efficient government becomes more involved with healthcare choices - as in limiting them - we'll see more creative schemes to get around those roadblocks we demanded and pay for.

dingo
dingo

@TheRuddSki 

'we'll see more creative schemes to get around those roadblocks we demanded and pay for.'


As in cartel run hospitals offering grade A services south of the border.

stuffedbuffalo
stuffedbuffalo

@TheRuddSki Plenty of money for bombs and guns, but no money to be found to help those we force to use them. Sounds about right.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@dingo

If Osama bin Laden could run day-care centers, I'm sure the cartels can run clinics.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@stuffedbuffalo @TheRuddSki

That's a talking point I've espoused over the years, as a 30% disabled vet, but no more. Pay attention to the explanation of the explosion in VA patients: care is now extended to EVERY honorably discharged vet. Much more than tending the wounds and service-connected ailments, the VA is now tending to the normal, natural illnesses and age-related conditions of EVERYbody who ever served, albeit far from the bombs and guns. 

doublecheese
doublecheese

@wcvemail Hasn't this always been the case?  My father in law was drafted in the early 60's, did his two years, and has had VA health benefits ever since.  

wcvemail
wcvemail

@doublecheese @wcvemail

Somehow he got lucky, absent some sort of service-connected disability of which you may be unaware. Before 1995, non-service-connected vets could apply for health care, but were at the end of a long line behind service-connected disability vets, and realistically weren't going to be seen at all. Even the svc-connected vets were rarely seen for any complaint other than their service-connected ailment itself. For instance, I couldn't get dental care, since that didn't have anything to do with my disability (I asked.) I also overheard non-service-connected/non-disabled vets being told not to expect to be served, although their names were duly noted.

Between 1995 and 2000, the VA implemented universal, primary health care for all honorably discharged vets. Those dates come from a very quick read of the VA site, but that coincides with my own enrollment in VA universal care in 1999. BTW, that was done for me automatically, I had no idea and very little to fill out for the application.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@wcvemail

You have to earn less than $30k to qualify if non-service related or time in service was not during a conflict.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@holmantx @wcvemail

Holman, with respect, do you have a citation for that? The only reference to income I encountered so far (up to three articles now) was requirement for co-pay based on income, not a cut-off threshold. What I've read are references to universal, primary health care for all honorably discharged vets, whether co-pay required or not.

http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/cost/copays.asp

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@wcvemail @holmantx

co-pay based upon income and not being on active duty during a wartime era, or service-related injury.

This is from memory

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@wcvemail @holmantx From what I understand, having recently navigated the VA's web registration (ACA, for me, unfortunately put affordable healthcare out of reach), is if an enrollee is applying for universal or general healthcare, with no service-related conditions, they must have served in a declared hostile or combat zone.  This is why I qualified, and the ex spouse didn't.  Even with the qualification, I am at tier 6, the last priority tier, and that is, I think, how it should be.

and I make over $30k/yr (gross), but just barely.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@RTGolden1

Hunh, then that contradicts the story's line that any hon-discharged vet qualifies, and makes me all the more curious how many people are actually qualified for and using general health care from the VA. 

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