A new program that was supposed to get patients off waiting lists at Veterans Affairs medical centers by letting them switch to private-sector doctors is proving to be an even bigger disappointment than initially thought.
The Veteran’s Choice program launched on Nov. 5 with $10 billion in funding and the expectation that it would instantly relieve backlogs at VA hospitals and clinics. But after a hurried rollout that has led to confusion as to exactly who is eligible and what they need to do to coordinate treatment, officials now say only 37,648 medical appointments have been made through April 11.
That figure represents only a tiny fraction of eligible patients. The Choice plan is supposed to be open to patients who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic or who have been told they would have to wait more than 30 days for VA care. As of April 1, there were nearly 432,000 appointments pending in the VA’s scheduling system involving a wait that long.
VA leaders have previously acknowledged that few vets were successfully using the Choice program and has already announced plans to loosen one important eligibility rule and an analysis is underway to pinpoint why utilization has been low.
The government came under public pressure to do something about delays at the VA last spring, after revelations that thousands of patients were languishing for months on waiting lists.