In order to combat the amount of backlogged disability claims the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a plan to outsource more medical exams. Backlogged cases are defined as, veterans waiting for more than 125 days to get their case resolved. The department believes outsourcing could make it easier for veterans in remote areas to be seen. It will also speed up benefit payouts. VA doctors are concerned that allowing contracted companies to conduct medical exams would negatively impact the quality of each exam. If it does take affect the move to outsource VA medical exams could cost more than $1 billion per year. Beth Murphy, a senior official in the VA’s benefits division, expects to receive as many as 1.9 million requests for disability exams next year. This is an increase from 2015 when she received 1.5 million.
With the new outsourcing plan, once the requests have been scheduled, a computer system will review how many exams the VA’s staff can handle each day. When the department becomes overwhelmed the system will divert work to contractors. The contractors could end up performing more than 60% of the exams. This would expand their duties however, the VA doctors still remain the first choice.
A concern with this integration currently is the interaction with the union. The union represents most of the VA employees who conduct medical exams. The union filed a grievance after learning about the plan to outsource VA medical exams. A study conducted in the 1990s was done by a private consultant determined that outsourced exams were much more expensive. In contrast to those findings, the VA’s inspector general released a report in 2005 that concluded that there was little difference in the quality of exam performed.
During an employee town hall meeting in Baltimore this past summer Mark Yow, the VA’s Chief financial officer, and Dr. David J. Shulkin, the VA’s top doctor, described plans to outsource almost all exams. This would allow VA doctors to shift the focus to treating patients. The VA has been outsourcing at least some of the exams since 1998 and currently contractors handle 29% of cases in 2015.
A group of senators involved with helping the department cut backlogged disability claims endorsed the idea. They wrote in a report that the extensive use of private doctors “ensures that disability exams continue to be completed in a timely manner, especially in locations where the VA may have higher demand for care and lack the facilities or resources to provide these exams quickly.”
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