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VA, DOD allegedly considering merging health systems

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, said Nov. 21 the VA department and the U.S. Department of Defense are exploring the idea of merging the agencies' health systems, Bloomberg Government reports.

"If there are efforts where we could do things better, we want to look at those ideas and the potential synergies," Dr. Shulkin said. “[T]here is no plan here. There is no draft. We are simply having early discussions."

Dr. Shulkin's comments were reportedly made in response to a Nov. 17Associated Press report on the agencies' alleged interest in potentially combining their health systems to expand private healthcare, according to the report.

A spokesperson for the VA confirmed the discussions to Bloomberg Government and said the proposed combination "has nothing to do with VA healthcare delivery system reform,” but may include sharing provider networks and claims processing services.

However, several Congressional leaders questioned the White House's alleged plans, which they claim are developing "behind closed doors" without the input of Congressional representatives, veterans or veterans groups, or healthcare policy experts.

"Merging the Veterans Choice Program and TRICARE would dramatically change the way in which healthcare is delivered to veterans. No studies exist on how merging the two programs — both intended for two very different patient populations — would affect quality of care and cost to the U.S. taxpayer and to veterans," Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump last month.

"A proposal as significant as merging TRICARE and the Veterans Choice Program should be fully transparent to the public. It should be subject of Congressional hearings, and should include the input of veterans, military families, and retirees who would be affected," they wrote.  

The Congressional representatives also requested unredacted documents and information related to a meeting about the potential merger held at the White House Nov. 2, which reportedly included VA and DOD officials, but no Congressmen, according to Bloomberg Government.

To read the full Bloomberg Government report, click here.

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