The partnership will allow veterans to receive diabetes chronic disease management in a community care setting outside of the VA.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its community care network to include partnerships with providers who support chronic disease management, according to a recent statement from the agency.
Specifically, VA will be partnering with Virta Health, a diabetes care management provider based in all 50 states across the country. The pilot partnership, which launched in late March of 2019, enrolled 400 VA patients in a diabetes care management program that aims to help achieve glycemic control without the use of medications.
Virta Health’s strategies hinge on traditional patient engagement methods including peer support groups, personalized nutrition plans, health coaching, and physician monitoring. The program uses health technologies to support remote patient care.
This partnership comes as a part of VA’s efforts to expand is community care network, or network of non-VA providers delivering care under the VA umbrella. Per VA sources, this will expand patient access to care beyond the means VA currently has.
“Partnering with community providers facilitates a more comprehensive approach to care,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Many Veterans have type 2 diabetes, and it is strongly linked to obesity, so we are excited to explore Virta Health’s approach to tackling this debilitating and costly condition.”
Nearly 1.5 million VA beneficiaries have type 2 diabetes and receive care management support from the agency. Specifically, VA can offer medical care, patient education, counseling, weight loss strategies, and blood glucose monitoring.
This new partnership with Virta Health may serve as proving ground whether VA can enhance its own offerings by expanding community care options.
Virta Health will primarily coordinate with the VA Office of Community Engagement, set up specifically to facilitate community and corporate partnerships to enhance the veteran experience.
This move comes as many healthcare industry leaders question VA’s intensions and readiness for expanding its entire Veterans Community Care Program, previously known as Veterans Choice.
Veterans Choice was initially set up to drive patient access to care when patients faced extraordinary barriers to receiving treatment. Those barriers could include geographic hurdles or needing a procedure that was not currently offered at a nearby VA facility.
But the Veterans Choice program was fraught, leading to numerous delays in both care access and community partner payments.
Revamped under the MISSION Act, the Veterans Community Care Program aims to perfect the community referral process and improve patient access to care.
But stakeholders aren’t so sure, at best stating that the VA is not ready to fully implement this program come June 6 and at worst saying it is part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to privatize the VA.
A recent Government Accountability Office report indicated that VA has insufficient systems to successfully carry out Veterans Community Care Program. The report also suggested that VA has not actively heeded advice to improve its Community Care Program systems.
For example, VA still struggles with timely patient access to community care. Convoluted referral and appointment scheduling processes, poor communication between VA and its facilities, and inadequate numbers of providers in community care networks serve as obstacles.
These issues are not new, GAO reported, and while there are some systems intended to address issues, VA has not fully carried them out.
Previous GAO recommendations called for improved care coordination and better patient data exchange between TPAs, VA, and community care providers. While VA agreed with each of those recommendations, they have not actually addressed them, GAO stated.
Additionally, VA has fallen short addressing problems with insufficient data. Specifically, VA lacks the data to monitor timely care access.
Congressional leaders also have their concerns about the Veterans Community Care Program. In an April 2019 hearing in the Senate Committee for Veterans Affairs, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) questioned the VA’s intentions with the Veterans Community Care Program.
“Since the Mission Act was signed into law, my concern is that VA’s primary focus is supplanting in-house care, as opposed to supplementing that care when it makes the most sense for veterans,” Tester said in his opening remarks. “In its rush to open the door to the private sector, my concern is that VA is outsourcing its responsibility to ensure veterans receive timely and high-quality care.”
Tester acknowledged VA’s limited knowledge about the timeliness of veteran community care access as well as the quality of care delivered, despite VA promises to allocate funds to community providers who deliver top-notch care.
“So on one hand, VA doesn’t have a clear understanding of how much this Program will cost. And on the other, VA openly states that it would make funding decisions based on whether its facilities are meeting the standards it fails to enforce on the private sector,” Tester said. “What I see is behavior that smacks of a deliberate effort – not to implement the best policy but to carry out a political agenda.”
For its part, VA worked to assuage some of those concerns. Richard A. Stone, MD, VA’s executive in charge, said VA indeed prioritizes its own responsibilities to veteran care and that the VCCP program will be ready to launch on June 6.
“It is important to note that the proposed Veterans Community Care Program does not supplant VA’s mission to provide care in VA facilities to Veterans who have earned it,” Stone said during the hearing. “VA’s proposed access standards will complement existing VA care by providing Veterans with greater choice to receive care in the community based on their individual needs and preferences.”
Date: May 17, 2019