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Did Access to Care Improve Since Passage of the Veterans Choice Act?: Differences Between Rural and Urban Veterans.

Gurewich D, Shwartz M, Beilstein-Wedel E, Davila H, Rosen AK. Did Access to Care Improve Since Passage of the Veterans Choice Act?: Differences Between Rural and Urban Veterans. Medical care. 2021 Jun 1; 59(Suppl 3):S270-S278.

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BACKGROUND: The 2014 Veterans Choice Program aimed to improve care access for Veterans through expanded availability of community care (CC). Increased access to CC could particularly benefit rural Veterans, who often face obstacles in obtaining medical care at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). However, whether Veterans Choice Program improved timely access to care for this vulnerable population is understudied. OBJECTIVES: To examine wait times among rural and urban Veterans for 5 outpatient specialty care services representing the top requests for CC services among rural Veterans. RESEARCH DESIGN: Retrospective study using VHA and CC outpatient consult data from VHA''s Corporate Data Warehouse in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 (October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015) and FY2018 (October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018). SUBJECTS: All Veterans who received a new patient consult for physical therapy, cardiology, optometry, orthopedics, and/or dental services in VHA and/or CC. MEASURES: Wait time, care setting (VHA/CC), rural/urban status, sociodemographics, and comorbidities. RESULTS: Our sample included 1,112,876 Veterans. Between FY2015 and FY2018, mean wait times decreased for all services for both rural and urban Veterans; declines were greatest in VHA (eg, mean optometry wait times for rural Veterans in VHA vs. CC declined 8.3 vs. 6.4?d, respectively, P < 0.0001). By FY2018, for both rural and urban Veterans, CC mean wait times for most services were longer than VHA wait times. CONCLUSIONS: Timely care access for all Veterans improved between FY15 and FY18, particularly in VHA. As expansion of CC continues under the MISSION Act, more research is needed to evaluate quality of care across VHA and CC and what role, if any, wait times play.

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