Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Surpise: All's not well at the VA
WASHINGTON — With government officials continuing to marvel at how — compared with HMEs — the VA can do more with less reimbursement, you might think all's well at the VA. It's not.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of veterans enrolled in the VA health system — which includes 850 outpatient clinics, 163 hospitals and 137 nursing homes — has doubled to six million.

Some aging veterans are entering the system because private doctors are refusing to see new Medicare patients and many Medicare managed care companies are either exiting markets or cutting back on benefits. The rising enrollment has created waiting lists to see a VA doctor that can reach years.

For example, 4,429 veterans at Bay Pines VA Medical Center outside St. Petersburg, Fla., have to wait until October 2005 for their first doctor appointment, the New York Times reported last month.

Responding to the challenge of increased enrollment, the VA system has tried to trim its benefits packages to reduce costs, but Capitol Hill has killed the efforts, paving the way for a $1.1 billion deficit next year in the VA's $25.5 billion medical budget. HME