Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) are teaming up to introduce their bipartisan VA Emergency Transportation Access Act to protect rural veterans’ access to quality, lifesaving emergency medical care and transport.
The senators’ bipartisan legislation would bar the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from reducing rates of pay and reimbursement for special mode transportation providers, including ground and air ambulances, unless VA meets certain requirements that ensure rate changes will not reduce veterans’ access to this essential service. Uninformed reductions in rates to levels below the actual cost of these emergency transports, without proper safeguards in place, would have catastrophic impacts if providers are forced to reduce services and even close access points due to an inability to absorb those costs.
The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is supported by multiple veteran service organizations, including The American Legion, as well as numerous industry emergency medical service leaders nationwide.
“The American Legion and our 1.6 million members applaud the swift bipartisan leadership of Senators Tester and Moran in introducing the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act,” said Chanin Nuntavong, The American Legion’s Executive Director of Government Affairs. “This timely proposal rightfully institutes accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and continuity for our nation’s veterans to receive the emergency care they need, when they need it most – without arbitrary reimbursement rate changes that leave veterans footing outrageous emergency transportation service bills and diminished access to emergency services. The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is a step toward a more transparent, more veteran-focused VA healthcare system.”
Veterans living in rural or hard-to-reach areas rely on emergency medical care and transports to access urgent, lifesaving medical care. In February, VA finalized a proposed rule change for special mode transportation service rates that would bring rates far below the actual costs of these services that would go into effect February 2024, despite significant opposition from Congress, providers and veteran service organizations. Rate reductions could cause emergency transportation providers to severely reduce services, close bases, or even bill veterans for the remainder of their costs in order to shoulder the financial impacts of this change. The department’s plan to reduce this negative impact through contracted rates above the base rates proposed in the rule is months behind and many aspects of the contracting plans are still not confirmed.
Under the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act, VA must complete the following requirements before pursuing a change that would reduce reimbursement rates for Special Modes of Transportation:
· Conduct a thorough review of the impact a change in rates would have on veterans’ access to care;
· Consult industry experts, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appropriate VA subject matter experts and veterans service organizations when conducting the review;
· Develop a formal process of updating the rates that protects or expands veterans’ current access to emergency transportation; and
· Ensure the new rates reflect the actual costs of transportation.