Access to care for veterans at risk in Alaska Tribal Health SystemNovember 23, 2015
A unique funding agreement in place since 2012 has increased access to care and funding for the health care of Alaska Native and non-Native veterans seen at Tribal health facilities. Through a partnership between the Veterans Administration (VA), Department of Defense and 26 Alaska Native health care organizations, known as a Tribal sharing agreement, these veterans have received care at Tribal health facilities when physical distance from a VA facility has been a barrier to receiving care. To date, this funding model has proven to be effective in increasing access to care for Alaska’s veterans. The number of veterans seen in Tribal facilities has grown from less than 200 in 2012 to more than 2,000 in 2015 year to date, with more than three-fourths being non-Native veterans.
New changes to the way VA benefits are paid have put this Tribal sharing agreement at risk beyond the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30. The Alaska Tribal Health System and its members that have provided care under the agreement are opposed to these changes. Our Tribal health system is equipped to provide quality care closer to home for those who served our country, but lack of funding in an already underfunded system makes it less feasible. These changes proposed by the VA put the care of current and future veterans at risk.
While originally designed to manage costs for the VA by allowing veterans to see the primary care provider of their choice, in rural areas where there are no providers, the proposed changes for Alaska add costs back into a veteran’s ability to access care. The Alaska Tribal Health System is a key provider of public health services across our state, yet continues to be underfunded. Funding agreements such as the Tribal sharing agreement with the VA help keep access to care financially sustainable. The ATHS and ANTHC have been in contact with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to advocate for continued access to care for our Alaska Native and non-Native veterans.
For more information, see a news story from Alaska Public Media that includes a statement by ANTHC Board Chairman Andy Teuber: http://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/06/19/vets-lawmakers-irate-over-new-va-choice-program/.