More than 30 Senate and House members from both parties pressed Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday for a quick fix to accounting errors that may have wrongly forced thousands of veterans to pay for more than $50 million in treatment at non-VA emergency facilities.
In a letter to Wilkie, the bipartisan group referred to a report from the VA's Office of Inspector General last week charging that the department may have wrongly billed about 17,400 veterans for at least $53.3 million over a six-month period in 2017.
"Facing a medical emergency can be stressful for any patient; however, the financial toll on veterans when VA erroneously denies or rejects payment can also be devastating," the letter states.
"Hospitals may send veterans' emergency care bills to collection," according to the letter. "Non-payment can bankrupt and destroy veterans' credit histories," and "these administrative errors can remain with veterans for the rest of their lives."
The letter was sent by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, a member of the Senate committee; Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, ranking member of the House committee.
They were joined by more than 30 other Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate.
The IG's report estimated "that if corrective actions are not taken, these errors could result in $533 million in improper underpayments to claimants over five years" for care at non-VA emergency rooms.
In addition, the IG found that the VA failed to inform many veterans their claims had been rejected or denied, or of their right to appeal these decisions.
The IG's 70-page report, titled "Non-VA Emergency Care Claims Inappropriately Denied and Rejected," said the reimbursement issue rests with the VA's Claims Adjudication and Reimbursement Directorate (CAR) in the VA's Office of Community Care (OCC).
"This is not new territory for VA," the letter to Wilkie states. It cites a 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office warning that the "VA's weak oversight of emergency care claims adjudication could lead to inappropriate denial of claims."
The lawmakers' letter asks for "a thorough explanation of how and when" the VA will comply with the IG's recommendations for a fix, and "how VA plans to re-adjudicate the approximately 17,400 veterans' claims the OIG determined VA likely should have paid."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.