A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that Steve Shulkin, Veterans Affairs Secretary, wants to expand the use of private sector providers in veterans’ healthcare. Shulkin said that he’d like to increase competition between the VA’s health system and private-sector providers. “The direction I’m taking this is to give veterans more choice in their care and be the decision maker for their care, which I fundamentally believe is a concept that has to be implemented,” Shulkin said.

The VA has been moving toward more consumer choice for many years. Under President Obama, the agency initiated same-day access for mental health and primary care services when medically necessary at all VA medical centers and they recently began a smart phone app to help veterans manage their appointments. The agency has been providing telehealth services to more than 677,000 veterans, or about 12% of the 5.6 million vets who get their healthcare through the VA.

In August, President Trump signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, which provides $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program. The program pays for private-sector care for veterans who don’t have ready access to VA hospitals and clinics. Shulkin told the Journal that the expansion of private-sector care would be gradual, with the goal of veterans one day not having to get VA approval to seek care outside the system. However, introducing private sector providers could take years.

Currently, veterans go through a provider at the VA for their health needs and they can see private doctors through VA’s Choice Program with referrals by the VA. Shulkin said his ultimate goal is for veterans to not have to rely on the VA to approve or coordinate their care. “We’re trying to not only let veterans increasingly have more choice and decision making,” Shulkin said. “We’re trying to let the VA understand that for them to remain strong, they have to be veteran-centric. They have to treat their veterans like customers, and they have to have quality of services and access to services that is equal to or better than the private sector.”

On Dec 6- Dr. David Shulkin released this Statement:

President Donald J. Trump is working to ensure his Administration fulfills its commitment to America’s veterans so they receive the care they deserve. Under the President’s leadership, we have enacted major reform bills including Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, the Forever GI Bill, and Appeals Modernization, among others. I am pleased that Congress is working on the last piece of business this year in considering proposals for permanent authorization of community care for Veterans. As we have made clear for many months, Congress needs to pass a bill this year to help our Veterans get the care they need and have earned through their service and sacrifice to our country.

We are pleased to see key provisions of the Administration’s CARE proposal to expand Veterans’ choice in their care — and improve VA’s ability to deliver that care — included in multiple bills. While a limited number of legislative days remain on the calendar, we are hopeful that both the Senate and House can reach agreement on a bill before the end of the session. To ensure our Veterans receive uninterrupted care, we are open to a short term, very limited extension of funding for the existing program to allow sufficient time for a final agreement to come together.

Shulkin previously worked as CEO of a private health-care system. Former President Obama named him undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for health and President Trump nominated him as secretary of Veterans Affairs in January. Dr. Shulkin has held numerous chief executive roles at Morristown Medical Center, and the Atlantic Health System Accountable Care Organization. He also served as President and CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center. Dr. Shulkin has held numerous physician leadership roles including Chief Medical Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Temple University Hospital, and the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital. He has also held academic positions including Chairman of Medicine and Vice Dean at Drexel University School of Medicine.

See my article also published on LinkedIn here.