Hon. Cliff Stearns, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing.
If there is one issue that we hear about more often than any other, it is the issue of access to healthcare for our veterans. From my veterans, I am pleased to hear that veterans are happy with the quality of care they receive at our medical centers and hospitals, however often the wait time for appointments, in particular specialty appointments can be incredibly long- months after they request to be seen. This is unacceptable. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) reports to Congress on the number of patients seen within 30 days of requesting an appointment, and there is also an electronic waiting list at the VA to ensure that no veteran falls through the cracks. However, these systems are not being used correctly.
In 2007, Inspector General (IG) auditors assessed whether VA schedulers followed procedures correctly when selecting appointments and veterans’ desired dates of care. The auditors also looked at how medical facilities ensured that all veterans seeking care either had appointments or were identified on electronic waiting lists. The IG determined that scheduling procedures were not followed and that electronic waiting lists were not complete. Often schedulers did not enter the correct desired dates of care. In 2007, the error rate of schedulers’ entries was 72%! The IG also found that the VA’s performance measures were overstated. VHA reported that 96% of all veterans seeking primary medical care and 95% seeking specialty care were seen within 30 days of their desired date. IG’s analysis showed instead that 78% of veterans seeking primary care and 73% of the specialty care were seen within 30 days.
I understand that we will hear today more about the issue of whether the statistics are correct or not, and the issues involved in getting these numbers right. The issue of VA outpatient waiting times comes down to whether or not the desired date of care recorded in the scheduling system is the correct date to use. However, the main issue, the key problem that we are here to deal with today, is how are we going to work together to ensure our veterans are receiving timely access to healthcare? I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses regarding their plans.