Congressional Bill Introduced to “Fix” Veteran Transportation Gap

H.R. 3350

A bi-partisan supported bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that will amend title 38 of the United States Code and allow for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reimburse veterans for the cost of emergency medical transportation to a Federal facility, and for other purposes.

Congressional Bill Introduced To Fix Veteran Transportation Gap

Labeled the VA Emergency Transportation Act, the proposed amendment would mandate the VA to pay for transports from non-VA facilities to VA facilities, following stabilization of a veteran patient.

In 1999, Congress passed legislation requiring the VA to reimburse medical expenses for treatment at private hospitals in hospitals to the point of stabilization of the veteran patient, but neglected to include the cost of ambulance transfer as reimbursable.

Sponsors

The act was introduced by U.S. Representatives Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Joe Cunningham (R-SC), which is co-sponsored by a host of Representatives from both sides of the aisle.

Also endorsing the bill are several veteran organizations including: American Veterans (AMVETS), Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Reserve Officer Association, Military Officers Association, Fleet Reserve Association, Blinded Veterans Association, Association of the United States Navy and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Filling the Gap

As it stands now, the VA can reimburse veterans for ambulance transportation to non-VA hospital facilities in an emergency situation. Likewise, because the scenario involves an emergency the VA can cover the emergency treatment costs at those non-VA facilities.

The coverage gap that H.R. 3350 proposes to fill, is the subsequent transport of the veteran patient who, following the emergency treatment, requires further treatment/hospitalization. When these veteran patients require ambulance transportation to the VA medical facility, the VA is not obligated to pay and this is where veterans wind up with hefty ambulance bills. The result of this is veteran patients are stuck with a quandary- either pay for ambulance transport to a VA facility or stay and pay out-of-pocket for inpatient treatment at the non-VA facility where they sought initial emergency care.

Of course, the veteran seeks to be treated and/or hospitalized at a VA facility due to the fact that they incur no out-of-pocket expense when inpatient at these facilities. Additionally, many of these veterans seek outpatient follow-up at these locations. Many, if not most, of these patients are surprised to learn that their transport from the sending non-VA facility to the VA facility is not reimbursable from the VA, and this is where the tension begins.

Ground ambulance charges certainly can be a surprise, however air-ambulance transfers are an even greater burden for the veteran as the cost to provide that service is so much more costly.

Sponsors Weigh-In

The mere fact that this bill is so bi-partisan in nature provides hope that the act will eventually pass as introduced. At this point the bill is very young and must first pass through committee review before it will ever see the House floor for passage. However, it’s encouraging to see both sides of the aisle agree on the matter in support of our nation’s veteran service members.

Sherman Gillums, AMVETS Chief Advocacy Officer had this to say about the bill when introduced.

“It is easy to overlook the importance of the remedy that the VA Emergency Transportation Act offers- unless you happen to be a veteran who needed emergency services and was forced to rely on ambulance transportation from a community ER to a VA medical facility for ongoing treatment. The fear of getting hit with a hefty ambulance expense after the fact has proven to be a deterrent to seeking timely emergency care for too many veterans. This bill, if passed, would change that.”

When introducing the measure, co-sponsor Congresswoman Hartzler explained her reasoning for crafting the act.

“In 1999, Congress created a safety net to ensure that the most vulnerable veterans weren’t left holding the bill for emergency care that could leave them in financial ruin. This bill repairs a hole in that safety net that has too often resulted in veterans and community health providers being liable for costly transfer to a VA hospital, a necessity for veterans unless they want to pay out-of-pocket for their medical costs. I’m proud to introduce this common-sense reform that will enhance the protection we provide to veterans who need it most.”

Cheers

Those of us who monitor and focus on the ambulance industry, specifically the billing side of things, know how very cumbersome interacting with the VA can be. It’s really a science all of its own, so we cheer any such remedy when introduced. This measure will ease some of that tension when interacting with the VA to ensure that both the ambulance agency is properly reimbursed without placing an undue out-of-pocket financial burden on the veteran patient. The act is a win-win for both sides!

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