Department of Veteran's Affairs years behind on payments to local hospitals

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) Many hospitals in Maine provide services to veterans through the VA Choice Program, a system where veterans can choose to receive care closer to home instead of traveling to a VA facility far away.

But, the Department of Veterans Affairs is slow at paying the bills for those services.

Congressman Bruce Poliquin spear-headed a discussion in Augusta Monday designed to ensure hospitals are paid what they're owed.

Lisa Harvey-McPherson with Eastern Maine Healthcare System says, "It's a system wide issue from the Aroostook Medical Center to our hospitals in Hancock County to our very rural hospitals in Pittsfield and Greenville. The Veterans Administration is fundamentally challenged to pay their bills on time. It's highly inefficient on their end and on our end to spend so much time reviewing each and every claim in an effort to get paid."

The Department of Veterans Affairs is years behind on their payments and millions of dollars in debt to hospitals for veteran's services.

This is a challenge for all hospitals, especially for those in rural parts of our state.

Harvey-McPherson says, "We're incurring the cost to provide care for those veterans, but yet when the revenues to offset the costs of that care are received two or three years later, it's a significant challenge and it impacts cash flow. It impacts the amount of investments that we can provide into rural communities."

Representative Bruce Poliquin says, "We need to make sure that these rural hospitals that contract for the VA to provide services to our veterans get paid, and the reason for that is not only to help our veterans but to make sure the hospitals stay open because it helps everybody in the community."

And it's not only a statewide problem.

Poliquin says, "There are 50-million Americans that rely on rural hospitals for their healthcare. These problems exist throughout the country, not just Maine."

Harvey-McPherson says, "When our rural hospitals are at risk, our rural economies are at risk."

Congressman Poliquin announced the launch of the bipartisan Rural Hospitals Caucus in Congress.

The caucus will look for ways through Congress to best support local, rural health centers.