Legislation Looks to Ensure Emergency Service Access in Rural Areas
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would bar the Department of Veterans Affairs from reducing rates of pay and reimbursement for special mode transportation providers, including ground and air ambulances, unless the VA meets certain requirements that ensure rate changes would not reduce veterans' access to these essential services.
The bipartisan VA Emergency Transportation Access Act, sponsored by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman John Tester (D-Montana), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R- Arkansas) teamed up to protect rural veterans access to lifesaving emergency medical care and transport.
Tester said, “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.”
Moran added, “The 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 February of 2023, the VA finalized a proposed rule change for special mode transportation service rates that would bring rates far below the actual costs of these services, and that would go into effect in February, 2024, despite significant opposition from Congress, providers, and Veteran Service Organizations. These rate reductions could cause emergency transportation providers to 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 VA Emergency Transportation Access Act is supported by Wounded Warrior Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, The American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Industry emergency medical service leaders nationwide also applauded the Senators’ bipartisan effort to make sure VA maintains fair emergency transportation rates.
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 1) Conduct a thorough review of the impact a change in rates would have on veterans’ access to care; 2) Consult industry experts, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appropriate VA subject matter experts, and Veterans Service Organizations when conducting the review; 3) Develop a formal process of updating the rates that protects or expands veterans’ current access to emergency transportation; 4) Ensure the new rates reflect the actual costs of transportation.