Military Advantage

VA Wants Your Input on How to Implement Free Urgent Care Benefit

Urgent Care facility

The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking public input on how best to provide veterans with free civilian urgent care.

The VA Mission act of 2018 directed the department to provide access to walk-in care for veterans who are eligible for VA health care.

What Type of Urgent Care Would Veterans Be Eligible For?

While the law refers to "walk-in" care, the VA will call it "urgent care," a well-known industry standard.

The VA says "urgent care" is medical care that isn't quite emergency care, but is treatment that you can't wait to get done. This could be an injury that isn't bad enough to go to the emergency room (a bad splinter, a sprained ankle, etc.), a bad cold or the flu, or other non life-threatening conditions.

The VA says that most service-connected conditions aren't part of this program, since veterans normally receive ongoing care from their VA care team for these conditions. An urgent-care visit is for a medical condition where there usually is no follow-up procedure. Many immunizations are also considered urgent care by the VA and the medical community.

Urgent Care Clinics and How to Find Them

You probably have seen them where you live. Urgent-care clinics are either stand-alone buildings located near medical facilities or hospitals or in malls or drugstores. Most are open at least 12 hours a day.

Both the Urgent Care Association of America and the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine say that an urgent-care clinic must:

  • Accept walk-in patients during business hours.
  • Treat a broad spectrum of illnesses and injuries, as well as perform minor medical procedures.
  • Have a licensed physician operating as the medical director.
  • Be open seven days a week.
  • Have on-site diagnostic equipment, including phlebotomy and X-ray.
  • Contain a procedure room where stitches could be placed, a cast be put on a leg, or a minor surgical procedure could be performed, if it is not too risky and can be done under a local anesthetic.

For its part, the VA proposes listing participating urgent-care clinics on its website to make it easy for veterans to find one in their local area.

Who Is Eligible for Civilian Walk-In Care?

According to the law, all veterans enrolled in the VA health care system who have gotten treatment in the last 24 months will be eligible for civilian urgent care.

How Much Would It Cost?

For most veterans, the first two visits in any calendar year would be free. After that, veterans would pay a co-pay of $30 directly to the VA for each visit. Those veterans in Priority Groups 7 & 8 would be required to make a $30 co-payment for each visit.

When Would All This Happen?

The VA published a notice in the Federal Register on Jan. 31, 2019. It will accept public comments for 30 days from that date. Once all public comments are received, reviewed and responded to, the VA will implement final regulations on this new law later this year.

See the Federal Register entry for details.

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