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Veterans Will Benefit if the VA Includes Telehealth in its Access Standards

Updated: May 19

By Russell Lemle and Megan McCarthy, originally in the Federal Practitioner

The VA MISSION Act of 2018 expanded options for veterans to receive government-paid health care from private sector community health care practitioners. The act tasked the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop rules that determine eligibility for outside care based on appointment wait times or distance to the nearest VA facility. As a part of those standards, VA opted not to include the availability of VA telehealth in its wait time calculations—a decision that we believe was a gross misjudgment with far-reaching consequences for veterans. Excluding telehealth from the guidelines has unnecessarily restricted veterans’ access to high-quality health care and has squandered large sums of taxpayer dollars.

The VA has reviewed its initial MISSION Act eligibility standards and proposed a correction that recognizes telehealth as a valid means of providing health care to veterans who prefer that option. Telehealth may not have been an essential component of health care before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now it is clear that t he best action VA can take is to swiftly enact its recommended change, stipulating that both VA telehealth and in-person health care constitute access to treatment. If implemented, this correction would save taxpayers an astronomical sum—according to a VA report to Congress, about $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021 alone. The cost savings from this proposed correction is reason enough to implement it. But just as importantly, increased use of VA telehealth also means higher quality, quicker, and more convenient care for veterans.

To read more about the VA's Telehealth capabilities, read Russell's entire article here.

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