Hundreds of doctors who were fired by the Department of Veterans Affairs due to poor-quality treatment may still be providing medical care to veterans through the VA’s private physicians network, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review released Monday.
The review found that at least 227 medical providers are still working with veterans despite being dismissed from the VA for reasons that include providing poor care or losing their medical licenses.
Beginning in May 2019 as part of the VA Mission Act, the department must track providers to ensure their eligibility, but those dismissed prior to that date were not addressed, allowing hundreds of fired doctors to fly under the radar in community care programs.
In order to manage the community care provider program, the VA has contracts with Optum and TriWest. Each company should guarantee that the doctors meet the VA’s standard for care quality, but GAO said they don’t have the proper systems in place to ensure those standards are met.
In fact, the contractors don’t have to verify license histories or revocation, but TriWest does verify providers’ state license history. Neither company continuously monitors their health care providers.
“There is a continued risk that former VA providers associated with quality of care concerns are participating in the [community care program],” the report states.
The GAO recommended the VA require that contractors implement credentialing and monitoring policies, in addition to assessing former VA providers’ risk to veterans where quality of care is concerned.
The VA has said they agree with the GAO and plan to move forward with the recommendations.
According to spokesman Randy Noller, the VA is “committed to ensuring our nation’s heroes receive safe and appropriate health care from qualified community providers.”
“[We] will continue to partner with third party administrators for the Veterans Community Care Network to exclude those not meeting high credentialing standards,” Noller told Military.com in an email.
After learning a doctor’s license has been revoked, contractors have 15 days to notify the VA, Noller added, noting that the VA holds monthly audits of their contractors to confirm Mission Act requirements are being met.
“VA also reviews a list of former Veterans Health Administration providers on a biweekly basis to ensure any new additions to the list who do not meet standards for participation in the Veterans Community Care Program are excluded,” he said.
The GAO’s recommendations will be implemented by April 2021 and additional actions have been taken to guarantee Mission Act requirements are met, according to VA officials.