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Sens. Tester, Crapo target Health Net over poor performance in VA health program

Veterans in Missoula share their health care concerns with Sen. Jon Tester during a recent listening session. (Missoula Current file photo)

Two Western U.S. senators on Tuesday didn’t mince words when calling upon the Department of Veterans Affairs to hold Health Net accountable for poorly managing the Veterans Choice Program.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, urged VA Secretary David Shulkin to consider Health Net’s “poor performance” and “empty promises” as its contract nears expiration.

“In our view, the VA’s management of the Health Net contract has been a failure,” they wrote. “Our home state providers deserve better than the miserable customer service provided to them by Health Net, who appears to be devoting even less attention to the Choice Program as its expiration nears.”

The two senators said they’ve worked with both the VA and Health Net for three years to make the system more responsive to providers who offer treatment to vets when the VA can’t do so in a timely manner.

However, they said, many of those providers haven’t been paid on time by Health Net. And when they look to collect, their emails aren’t returned and they’re placed on hold for long periods of time.

Some of those providers have carried high balances, they said.

“These frustrating and completely avoidable experiences have tarnished VA’s reputation with those community providers who have stepped in to provide care to veterans,” they wrote. “More critically, they’ve contributed to a decreasing lack of trust by veterans and taxpayers in the VA’s ability to provide quality and timely care to veterans.”

The senators, joined by a coalition of nine other lawmakers, are urging the VA to take immediate action.

“And if Health Net continues to underperform, we urge VA to immediately enforce penalties, including the potential discontinuation of any payments, until Health Net starts meeting all of its contractual obligations and most importantly, its responsibilities to America’s veterans.”