By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor
Veterans will be able to get the federal government to cover their care after they go to an emergency room at hospitals that aren’t affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs, under a new policy the agency recently announced.
The change in policy stems from a law passed in 2008 that requires the VA to reimburse the covered costs for emergency care received at non-VA facilities for some veterans, rather than leaving the decision about reimbursement up to the discretion of VA officials. More than 100,000 veterans are estimated to be affected by the new rules, at a cost of about $44 million per year.
A second policy change that takes effect on Friday also expands care at non-VA facilities after a person is stabilized. Under the previous policy, VA officials couldn’t reimburse or pay for treatment provided after the veteran could “be transferred safely to a [VA] facility or other federal facility.” That meant that the VA was unable to cover services after medical professionals considered the patient to be stable enough to be transferred to a VA facility — even if no VA or other federal facility could immediately accept the patient and the person required continued, non-emergency treatment. The new policy extends VA’s authority to pay for emergency care for veterans at non-VA facilities until the patients can be safely transferred to a VA medical facility.
VA operates 121 emergency departments across the country that are open at all hours to provide resuscitative therapy and stabilization in life-threatening situations. The VA also has 46 urgent-care units, which provide care for patients without scheduled appointments who need immediate medical or psychiatric attention.