The third-party administrator who oversees the Montana VA Health Care System notified the Mineral County Regional Health Center on Monday that its application to treat veterans at home under the Choice Act has been approved.
Last week, the health center applied to Health Net to provide treatment under the newly passed Choice Act. At the time, the hospital was told it would take 90 days to review and approve the paperwork.
The delay caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and his staff in Washington, D.C. Over the weekend, Health Net told Tester that the Mineral County application had been approved two days after its receipt.
“The VA reform bill must work for folks on the ground," Tester said. "As health care providers and the VA work to implement the reforms, it’s important that all parties communicate and that veterans’ views are taken into account. It’s unacceptable to have veterans waiting for care.”
Mineral County confirmed the approval Tuesday.
“Health Net called yesterday (Monday) in the afternoon and said we’re good to go,” said Monte Turner, the hospital’s outreach director. “They called and said we were now proficient to provide care to vets who meet the criteria.”
Passed in November, the Choice Act allows veterans enrolled with the VA to receive non-VA care if geography poses a significant travel hardship, or if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility.
Superior lies 70 miles west of Missoula, a distance that qualifies most local veterans to receive care at the Mineral County Regional Health Center. Turner said the center wasn’t aware that the paperwork was necessary when the Choice Act was enacted by Congress.
“If we dropped the ball, and we probably did, it must be because it came in some government email and got deleted,” Turner said. “I wish we would have resolved this in another way.”
Veterans who possess a Choice Card and seek care in Mineral County must call the Health Net number on the back of their card. Turner said Health Net will ask them a few questions to ensure they meet the requirements detailed under the Choice Act.
At that point, Turner said, the veteran will receive a preauthorization number. Health Net will then mail a packet to both the veteran and the Mineral County Regional Health Center and will schedule the veteran’s appointment.
If veterans arrive at the health center without first calling Health Net, the hospital will connect them to the Health Net service and an appointment will be made over the phone.
“Health Net was real nice,” Turner said. “They said to call them if we have any questions whatsoever.”