Boozman, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Leaders Fight to Preserve Rural Veterans’ Access to Lifesaving Emergency Medical Transportation
Sep 14 2023
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in introducing legislation to protect rural veterans’ access to quality, lifesaving emergency medical care and transport.
The VA Emergency Transportation Access Act would prevent 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. Rate reductions 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.
“The VA must take into account the consequences its reimbursement proposal for emergency transports will have on veterans’ access to health care,” said Boozman. “Our bipartisan bill would protect access to emergency services for these heroes no matter where they live, ensuring this critical resource continues operating. I’m proud to champion this effort to help fulfill the promise made to America’s men and women who served in uniform.”
“In rural states like Montana, emergency air and ground transportation is a lifeline for veterans who can easily find themselves a long way from a hospital when a medical emergency happens,” said Tester. “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.”
“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,” said Moran. “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.”
“This proposed rule needs to be carefully considered before implementation, to prevent any negative consequences to timely health care and emergency services, especially for veterans in rural areas,” said Murray. “Before VA moves forward with this rule, they need to take a serious look at what its implementation would mean for those who rely on VA and ensure that any changes will not result in more limited access to emergency services. Congress must take seriously our responsibility to make sure veterans have the best possible access to the high-quality health care they deserve, and this legislation gives the Department time to fully consider whether this proposed rule keeps our promise.”
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 balance 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 the department 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.
The legislation is supported by Wounded Warrior Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Arkansas emergency medical service leaders also applauded the bipartisan effort to make certain VA maintains fair emergency transportation rates.
“Ambulance providers like Pafford Medical Services are at a breaking point as a result of Medicare reimbursement rates, a staffing crisis and high inflation costs. The VA’s proposal creates another hurdle to patient care and jeopardizes the EMS system across Arkansas. We are proud to support the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act and appreciate Senator Boozman’s leadership to ensure emergency services are fairly reimbursed,” said Jamie Pafford-Gresham, President & CEO of Pafford Medical Services.