ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The need for veterans in rural areas to have access to emergency medical transportation continues to be important and Wednesday, some action was introduced to help with just that.
Wednesday, U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) introduced legislation to protect rural veterans’ access to quality, lifesaving emergency medical care and transport.
“The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act would bar the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from reducing rates of pay and reimbursement for special mode transportation providers, including ground and air ambulances, unless VA meets certain requirements that ensure rate changes will not reduce veterans’ access to this essential service,” a release from Moran’s office noted. “Uninformed reductions in rates to levels below the actual cost of these emergency transports, without proper safeguards in place, would have catastrophic impacts if providers are forced to reduce services and even close access points due to an inability to absorb those costs.”
“It is critical that VA continues to provide fair reimbursements for emergency transportation services so veterans, particularly those in rural areas, have no barriers standing between them and the health care they need,” Moran noted in the release. “VA’s recent rule making threatens to upend access to care for veterans and all Americans by disrupting the air and ground ambulance industry from coast to coast. This legislation would put a stop to that by establishing commonsense parameters for VA to follow when setting air ambulance reimbursement rates to make certain veterans across the nation receive lifesaving care when they need it most.”
“In rural states like Montana, emergency ground and air transportation is a lifeline for veterans who can easily find themselves a long way from a hospital when a medical emergency happens,” Tester noted in the release. “Our bipartisan bill will ensure veterans can continue to access the timely, lifesaving emergency services they have earned, and that local emergency transportation providers are fairly reimbursed for their service to these heroes.”
“As someone who has served in the military and now has the honor of providing care for other Veterans, this bipartisan legislation is a crucial step forward in preserving access to lifesaving air medical flights,” B.J. Tyner, a former Black Hawk Army pilot, Kansan, and current area manager for LifeSave Transport, which has 4 air medical bases in Kansas, noted in the release. “Rural-based Veterans face many obstacles when it comes to healthcare, and we must ensure they continue to have access to critical care in their time of need. I want to thank Senator Moran for standing up for the approximately 200,000 Kansas Veterans.”
Veterans living in rural or hard-to-reach areas rely on emergency medical care and transports to access urgent, lifesaving medical care. In February, VA finalized a proposed rule change for special mode transportation service rates that would bring rates far below the actual costs of these services that would go into effect February 2024, despite significant opposition from Congress, providers, and Veteran Service Organizations. Rate reductions could cause emergency transportation providers to severely reduce services, close bases, or even bill veterans for the remainder of their costs in order to shoulder the financial impacts of this change. The department’s plan to reduce this negative impact through contracted rates above the base rates proposed in the rule is months behind and many aspects of the contracting plans are still not confirmed.
The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act would require VA to complete the following requirements before pursuing a change that would reduce reimbursement rates for Special Modes of Transportation:
• Conduct a thorough review of the impact a change in rates would have on veterans’ access to care;
• Consult industry experts, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appropriate VA subject matter experts, and Veterans Service Organizations when conducting the review;
• Develop a formal process of updating the rates that protects or expands veterans’ current access to emergency transportation; and
• Ensure the new rates reflect the actual costs of transportation.
“Having access to VA’s Special Mode of Transportation is the only way many veterans can safely get to their VA and authorized non-VA medical appointments,” Heather Ansley, Chief Policy Officer of Paralyzed Veterans of America, noted in the release in the release from Moran’s office. “The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act helps ensure reimbursement rates for this program remain strong by preventing VA from changing them until a review of their impact on veterans’ access to care, the actual cost of transportation and other variables is conducted.”
Many others praised the legislation’s introduction.
“The American Legion and our 1.6 million members applaud the swift bipartisan leadership of Senators Tester and Moran in introducing the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act,” Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of The American Legion, noted in the release. “This timely proposal rightfully institutes accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and continuity for our nation’s veterans to receive the emergency care they need, when they need it most – without arbitrary reimbursement rate changes that leave veterans footing outrageous emergency transportation service bills and diminished access to emergency services. The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is a step toward a more transparent, more veteran-focused VA healthcare system.”
“The VFW supports the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act which would limit the Secretary of VA from modifying the rate of payment or reimbursement for transportation of veterans or other individuals via special modes of transportation under the laws administered by the Secretary,” VFW Associate Director Meggan Thomas, noted in the release. “The VFW does not support the reduction of transportation rates, especially when rising costs make it challenging for veterans to access services. We believe there must be a more effective way of handling transportation issues. We thank Senators Tester and Moran for introducing this bill, and we look forward to getting this legislation passed into law.”
“The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act by Senators Tester, Moran, Murray and Boozman will help ensure that veterans as well as communities continue to have access to often lifesaving emergency 9-1-1 ambulance services,” Randy Strozyk, President of the American Ambulance Association, noted in the release.
“I thank Senators Tester, Moran, Murray, and Boozman for introducing this important legislation,” Fire Chief John S. Butler, President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, noted in the release. “By holding VA accountable to develop fair and reasonable rates, the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act will ensure that our nation’s veterans continue to receive the quality emergency care that they deserve. In addition, local fire and EMS departments will continue to be reimbursed for this important service to the heroes of their community.”