Can The VA Save Money And Pay Physicians More?

There are 18.8 million veterans in the United States. Of those, an estimated 8.9 million veterans receive care from the 168 VA medical centers and 1,053 outpatient sites under the Veterans Health Administration.

The VHA is the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, has received $2.5 billion from the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act to hire more physicians, and has implemented a tool that allows patients to access average wait times and quality of care data.

However, even with a patient-to-physician ratio of 356 to 1 — 55 percent lower than leading healthcare innovator Kaiser Permanente — veterans are waiting, on average, 30 days to schedule an appointment and three months to receive care. I wanted to know why there is such a stark difference between data points for these two high-profile healthcare organizations, so we crunched the numbers and looked to find a solution.

On the surface, the most simplistic solution to this supply-and-demand issue is to hire more physicians to facilitate the rising number of VA patients. But looking to the VHA’s past attempts at this, it’s evident that throwing more resources at the problem won’t address the underlying issue of inefficiency.

Our research found that 20 percent of doctors hired by the VA quit within the first two years of being hired, and nearly 4 in 10 quit within the first five years. That’s four times the attrition rate of Kaiser Permanente. Additionally, physicians at Kaiser Permanente are paid, on average, $75,776 more per year than those at the VA.

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