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Trump signs bill to continue 'doctor choice' program for veterans

Veterans Choice Program Extension lets vets seek care at private institutions, buys time for VA Secretary Shulkin to write a more comprehensive plan.

Bernie Monegain, Editor, Healthcare IT News

President Donald Trump signed a bill Wednesday that temporarily extends a program that allows some veterans to get medical care in the private sector instead of the VA's health system.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was present at the signing in the White House.

The extension of the program gives Shulkin time to create a broader plan that would make it easier for veterans to seek care outside the VA health system.

[Also: VA finally gets transparent on veteran wait times, clinical care quality]

The Choice program was slated to end August 7.

The Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act authorizes the VA to continue the program to early 2018, which is when the funding is expected to run out. There is still $1 billion available.

Trump said veterans have "not been taken care of properly" and that with the program extension, they will continue to be able to see "the doctor of their choice."

"You got it? The doctor of their choice," he said.

Shulkin, who attended the bill signing, said the extension is important because it gives veterans another avenue for care, and it buys him time to create a longer-term plan.

Congress would have to approve any changes to the VA health system.

"It's this approach where veterans can get care wherever they need it that really is the way that we're going to address all the needs and honor our commitments to our veterans," Shulkin said after Trump signed the bill.

The Choice Program was put in place in 2014 after it was revealed that as many as 40 veterans died while they were waiting for months for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center.

The Choice program gives veterans another option, allowing veterans to go outside the VA network in situations where they would otherwise have to wait 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles for care.

Trump met with Shulkin in the Oval Office prior to the signing ceremony.

"Secretary Shulkin updated me on the massive and chronic challenge he inherited at the VA, but also the great progress that he is making," Trump told the group assembled for the signing. "He's got a group of people that are phenomenal at the VA.  It's one of my most important things. I've been telling all of our friends at speeches and rallies for two years about the VA, how we're going to turn it around. And we're doing that."

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
Email the writer: bernie.monegain@himssmedia.com

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