oversight

VA Long-Term Care: Veterans' Access to Noninstitutional Care Is Limited by Service Gaps and Facility Restrictions

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-05-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Health,
                          Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, House of
                          Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 1:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 22, 2003    VA LONG-TERM CARE
                          Veterans’ Access to
                          Noninstitutional Care Is
                          Limited by Service Gaps
                          and Facility Restrictions
                          Statement of Cynthia A. Bascetta
                          Director, Health Care—Veterans’
                           Health and Benefits Issues




GAO-03-815T
                                                May 22, 2003


                                                VA LONG-TERM CARE

                                                Veterans’ Access to Noninstitutional Care
Highlights of GAO-03-815T, a testimony          Is Limited by Service Gaps and Facility
before the Subcommittee on Health,
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, House of        Restrictions
Representatives




With the aging of the veteran                   Veterans’ access to the six noninstitutional services GAO reviewed is limited
population, the Department of                   by service gaps and facility restrictions. Of VA’s 139 facilities, 126 do not
Veterans Affairs (VA) is likely to              offer all six of these servicesadult day health care, geriatric evaluation,
see a significant increase in long-             respite care, home-based primary care, homemaker/home health aide, and
term care need. VA uses
noninstitutional long-term care
                                                skilled home health care. Veterans have the least access to respite care,
services, such as home health care              which is not offered at 106 facilities. By contrast, skilled home health care is
and adult day health care, and                  not offered at 7 facilities. Veterans’ access is more limited than these
institutional care to meet this need.           numbers suggest, however, because even when facilities offer these services
GAO identified limits in veterans’              they often do so in only part of the geographic area they serve. In fact, for
access to six noninstitutional long-            four of the six services the majority of facilities either do not offer the
term care services and factors that             service or do not provide access to all veterans living in their geographic
contribute to these limitations in its          service area. Veterans’ access may be further limited by restrictions that
report VA Long-Term Care:                       individual facilities set for use of services they offer. For example, at least 9
Service Gaps and Facility                       facilities limit veterans’ eligibility to receive noninstitutional services based
Restrictions Limit Veterans’                    on their level of disability related to military service, which conflicts with
Access to Noninstitutional Care
(GAO-03-487, May 9, 2003). The
                                                VA’s eligibility standards. Many facilities restrict the number of veterans
report is based, in part, on a survey           who receive services resulting in veterans at 57 of VA’s 139 facilities being
of all 139 VA facilities. Today’s               placed on waiting lists for noninstitutional services.
testimony discusses conclusions
and highlights recommendations                  Noninstitutional Long-Term Care Services Not Available to All Veterans, Based on
GAO made in the report to improve               Geographic Areas, at VA’s 139 Facilities as of Fall 2002
access to VA noninstitutional long-
term care services.



In its report GAO recommended
that VA:

•    ensure that facilities follow
     VA’s eligibility standards when
     determining veteran eligibility
     for noninstitutional long-term
     care services, and
•    refine current performance
     measures to help ensure that
     all VA facilities provide
     veterans with access to                    VA’s lack of emphasis on increasing access to noninstitutional long-term
     required noninstitutional                  care services has contributed to service gaps and individual facility
     services.                                  restrictions that limit access to care. Faced with competing priorities and
VA concurred with the
                                                little guidance from headquarters, field officials have chosen to use available
recommendations.                                resources to address other priorities. While VA has implemented a
                                                performance measure for fiscal year 2003 that encourages networks to
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-815T.         increase veterans’ use of five of the six noninstitutional services, it does not
                                                require networks to ensure that all facilities provide veterans access to
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.       noninstitutional services.
For more information, contact Cynthia A.
Bascetta at (202) 512-7101.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA) noninstitutional long-term care services and how veterans’
access to these services could be improved. Meeting the long-term care
needs of veterans is growing in importance as the number of veterans
most in need of these services—those 85 years old and older—is expected
to increase from 640,000 to 1.3 million by 2012. To provide assistance to
veterans with chronic illness or physical or mental disability, VA provides
a continuum of noninstitutional and institutional services. Noninstitutional
services are provided to veterans in their own homes or in community
settings, and include specific services to meet the requirements of the
Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act.1

VA provides noninstitutional services directly through its own employees
and by contracting for services. In fiscal year 2002, VA spent
approximately $283 million on noninstitutional long-term care services
and served an average daily census of about 24,000 veterans. By contrast,
VA spent nearly $3 billion on institutional long-term care provided in
nursing homes and other settings and had an average daily census of more
than 43,000 veterans.

My remarks are based on a recent report and other issued work.2 We
surveyed each of VA’s 139 medical facilities to obtain data on the
availability of six noninstitutional long-term care services,3 and identified
any limits in access and reasons for these limitations. These services
included three VA provides to meet the requirements of the Millennium
Act—adult day health care, noninstitutional geriatric evaluation, and
noninstitutional respite care—in addition to home-based primary care,



1
 In November 1999, the Congress passed the Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits
Act, which required that VA provide veterans access to three servicesadult day health
care, geriatric evaluation, and respite care. VA chose to meet the Millennium Act
requirements by issuing a directive in October 2001 requiring that facilities provide adult
day health care, noninstitutional geriatric evaluation, and noninstitutional respite care to
veterans in need of such services.
2
U.S. General Accounting Office, VA Long-Term Care: Service Gaps and Facility
Restrictions Limit Veterans’ Access to Noninstitutional Care, GAO-03-487 (Washington,
D.C.: May 9, 2003). Also see Related GAO Products.
3
 Although VA has 172 medical centers, in some instances 2 or more medical centers have
consolidated into health care systems. Counting health care systems and individual medical
centers that are not part of a health care system as single facilities, VA has 139 facilities.




Page 1                                                                         GAO-03-815T
skilled home health care, and homemaker/home health aide. We also
interviewed VA officials and examined documents related to these issues.

In summary, we found that veterans’ access to the six noninstitutional
services we reviewed is limited by the lack of service availability and
restrictions on their use. Of VA’s 139 facilities, 126 do not offer all six
services. Veterans have the least access to noninstitutional respite care,
which is not offered by 106 VA facilities. By contrast, skilled home health
care is not offered by 7 facilities but is provided by the remaining 132.
Veterans’ access to care is more limited, however, because even when
facilities offer these services they often do so in only parts of the
geographic area they serve. More than half of VA facilities do not offer four
of the six servicesnoninstitutional respite care, home-based primary
care, adult day health care, and noninstitutional geriatric evaluationat
all, or only offer such services in parts of the geographic areas they serve.
Veterans’ access may be further limited by restrictions that individual
facilities place on the services they offer. For example, we found that 9
facilities, in conflict with VA’s eligibility standards, limited veterans’
access to noninstitutional services based on their level of disability related
to military service. In addition, restrictions placed by many facilities on the
number of veterans who can receive these noninstitutional services have
resulted in veterans at 57 of VA’s 139 facilities being placed on waiting lists
for noninstitutional services.

VA’s lack of emphasis on increasing access to noninstitutional long-term
care services and a lack of guidance on the provision of these services
have contributed to service gaps and individual facility restrictions. VA
headquarters has not emphasized increasing access to these services by
establishing measurable performance goals as it has for other priorities
such as maintaining workloads in VA nursing homes. Without such
performance measures, field officials faced with competing priorities have
chosen to use available resources to address other priorities. VA has
implemented a performance measure for fiscal year 2003 that encourages
networks to increase veterans’ use of five of the six noninstitutional
services, but it does not require networks to ensure that all network
facilities provide veterans access to noninstitutional services. Moreover,
VA has not provided facilities with adequate guidance on the provision of
noninstitutional respite care, even though most have had little experience
in providing the service. Some networks and facilities are confused about
how to provide noninstitutional respite care and as a result some are not
providing the service. VA has also not provided adequate guidance on
which noninstitutional services are required. In particular, VA has not
specified whether the home health services requirement includes one, all,


Page 2                                                            GAO-03-815T
             or some combination of home-based primary care, homemaker/home
             health aide, and skilled home health care. In the absence of VA
             headquarters guidance on what home health services are required, VA
             facilities vary in their interpretations of what services they must provide.

             To help ensure that veterans have access to noninstitutional long-term
             care services and that such services are offered uniformly throughout VA,
             we are recommending that VA take actions to increase emphasis on
             provision of these services, provide adequate guidance on their provision,
             and ensure that VA’s eligibility standards are used to determine eligibility.
             Specifically, we are recommending that VA (1) ensure that facilities follow
             VA’s eligibility standards when determining veteran eligibility for
             noninstitutional long-term care services, (2) define and provide guidance
             on noninstitutional respite care, (3) specify in VA policy whether home-
             based primary care, homemaker/home health aide, and skilled home
             health care are to be available to all enrolled veterans, and (4) refine
             current performance measures to help ensure that all VA facilities provide
             veterans with access to required noninstitutional services. In commenting
             on a draft of our report, VA concurred with our recommendations,
             discussed preliminary actions it plans to take, and stated that it will
             provide a detailed action plan to implement our recommendations.


             Changes in VA’s eligibility standards have resulted in an increase in the
Background   number of veterans who are eligible to receive VA health care, including
             noninstitutional long-term care services. The Veterans’ Health Care
             Eligibility Reform Act of 19964 authorized VA to provide health care
             services not previously available to veterans without service-connected
             disabilities or low incomes.5 As required by the act and due to an
             anticipated increase in demand for VA health care from these changes in
             eligibility, VA has eight priority categories for enrollment, with higher
             priority given to veterans with service-connected disabilities, lower
             incomes, or other recognized statuses such as former prisoners of war. If
             sufficient resources are not available to provide care that is timely and


             4
             Pub. L. No. 104-262 §§ 101, 104, 110 Stat. 3178-79, 3182-83 (1996).
             5
              A service-connected disability is an injury or disease that was incurred or aggravated while
             on active military duty. VA classifies veterans with service-connected disabilities according
             to the extent of their disability. These classifications are expressed in terms of
             percentages—for example, the most severely disabled such veteran would be classified as
             having a service-connected disability of 100 percent. Percentages are assigned in
             increments of 10 percent.




             Page 3                                                                        GAO-03-815T
acceptable in quality for all priority groups, the act requires VA to limit
enrollment nationally, consistent with the eight priority groups. If needed,
enrollment restrictions would begin with the lowest priority category. On
January 17, 2003, VA announced that it would no longer enroll priority 8
veterans, those in the lowest priority category, for the duration of the
year.6

VA long-term care includes a continuum of services for the delivery of care
to veterans needing assistance due to chronic illness or physical or mental
disability. Assistance with veterans’ needs takes many forms and is
provided in varied settings, including institutional care in nursing homes
or home and community-based noninstitutional care. Long-term care also
includes respite care services that temporarily relieve a caregiver from the
burden of caring for a chronically ill and disabled veteran in the home.

VA’s long-term care infrastructure, including nursing homes it operates,
was developed when the concentration of veteran population was
distributed differently by region. When VA developed its long-term care
infrastructure, it relied more on nursing home care and less on home and
community-based services than current practice. To help update VA’s
long-term care policy, the Federal Advisory Committee on the Future of
VA Long-Term Care recommended in 1998 that VA meet the growing
demand for long-term care by greatly expanding home and community-
based service capacity while maintaining its nursing home capacity at the
level of that time.7

VA has delegated decision making regarding financing and service delivery
for long-term care and other health care services to its 21 health care
networks. VA allocates resources for health care to each of the 21
networks, including resources used for long-term care. In turn, VA’s
networks have budget and management responsibilities that include
allocating resources received from headquarters to facilities within their
networks—including resources used to provide long-term care services.




6
 Priority 8 veterans are primarily veterans with no service-connected disabilities who have
incomes above established limits for geographic regions set by the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development to reflect regional costs of living. Priority 8 veterans
enrolled prior to January 17, 2003, remain enrolled to receive VA health care benefits.
7
 VA Long-Term Care At The Crossroads: Report of the Federal Advisory Committee on the
Future of VA Long-Term Care (Washington, D.C.: June 1998).




Page 4                                                                       GAO-03-815T
                            Veterans’ access to the six noninstitutional services in our reviewadult
Veterans’ Access Is         day health care, geriatric evaluation, respite care, home-based primary
Limited by Gaps in          care, homemaker/home health aide, and skilled home health care—is
                            limited due to gaps in availability and facility restrictions on use of the
Service Availability        services. Of VA’s 139 facilities, 126 do not offer all six noninstitutional
and Facility                services. Facilities that do offer a service do not always offer the service to
                            veterans in the entire geographic area they serve. Further, veterans’ access
Restrictions on             to the six noninstitutional services may be limited by restrictions that
Service Use                 individual VA facilities place on service use. Some of these facility
                            restrictions conflict with VA eligibility standards which state that most
                            services are to be available to all enrolled veterans regardless of priority
                            group.


Access to Care Is Limited   Access to care is limited because many VA facilities do not offer the six
by Service Gaps Across VA   noninstitutional services in our review. Of VA’s 139 facilities, 126 did not
                            offer all of the six noninstitutional services in fall 2002 with little progress
                            made in expanding the availability of services from fall 2001. (See fig. 1.)
                            The least commonly available service of the six we reviewed in 2001 and
                            2002 was noninstitutional respite care. This service was not available at
                            110 facilities in fall 2001, and as of fall 2002, noninstitutional respite care
                            was not available at 106 facilities. In contrast, the most widely available
                            service we reviewed was skilled home health care, which was offered at
                            all but 7 facilities.




                            Page 5                                                              GAO-03-815T
Figure 1: Noninstitutional Long-Term Care Services at VA’s 139 Medical Facilities

VA facilities
140


120


100


 80


 60


 40


 20


  0
       2001 2002          2001 2002      2001 2002     2001 2002       2001 2002       2001 2002
      Respite care        Home-based      Geriatric     Adult day     Homemaker/      Skilled home
                          primary care   evaluation    health care    home health      health care
                                                                         aide
                Offered

                Not offered

 Source: GAO.


Note: Includes services provided directly by facilities or through contracts with other providers as of
fall 2001 and fall 2002.


Veterans’ access to these services is further limited because among
facilities that offer services, many do so in only parts of the geographic
area they serve. Our fall 2002 survey showed that for four of the six
servicesnoninstitutional respite care, home-based primary care, adult
day health care, and noninstitutional geriatric evaluationthe majority of
the facilities either did not offer one or more of the services or did not
offer them in the entire geographic area they serve. As shown in figure 2,
42 facilities did not offer adult day health care and an additional 76
facilities did not offer adult day health care in their entire geographic
service area. As a result, where veterans live in a facility’s geographic
service area determined whether they had access to the services offered
by the facility. The remaining 21 facilities reported that they offered adult
day health care in all parts of their geographic service areas.




Page 6                                                                                   GAO-03-815T
Figure 2: Noninstitutional Long-Term Care Services, Based on Geographic Areas, at
VA’s 139 Medical Facilities
VA facilities
140


    120


    100


     80


     60


     40


     20


      0
          Respite care       Home-based          Geriatric      Adult day      Homemaker/        Skilled home
                             primary care       evaluation     health care   home health aide     health care
                   Offered in entire geographic area

                   Offered but not in entire geographic area

                   Not offered
    Source: GAO.


Note: Includes services provided directly by facilities or through contracts with other providers as of
fall 2002.


The Millennium Act and VA policy also allow facilities to make available to
veterans the services required as a result of the Millennium Actadult day
health care, noninstitutional respite care, and noninstitutional geriatric
evaluationthrough other providers or payers while still overseeing the
care delivered using a case management approach.8 In these cases, VA
could arrange for these services from non-VA sources but would not pay
for them. However, VA headquarters has neither issued guidance on the
use of case management to meet this requirement under the Millennium
Act nor has it monitored the extent to which facilities use this option.
Further, the benefit of VA case management in assisting veterans to access
these three services is limited to those veterans who have some other
sources to pay for the care. That is, if veterans are not eligible for care


8
 Case management includes assessment of the veteran’s care needs, care planning and
implementation, referral coordination, monitoring, and periodic reassessment of the
veteran’s care needs.




Page 7                                                                                          GAO-03-815T
                              covered by another payer, such as Medicaid, or cannot pay themselves,
                              case management assistance is not likely to result in access to the three
                              services.


Veterans’ Access to Care Is   Some facilities limit access to services based on veterans’ service-
Further Limited by            connected disability levels. For example, we found that nine VA facilities
Individual Facility           imposed their own eligibility restrictions on access to noninstitutional
                              services based on veterans’ service-connected disabilities. Because we did
Restrictions                  not systematically ask in our survey if facilities had restrictions based on
                              service-connected disabilities, it is possible that additional facilities may
                              impose similar eligibility restrictions. Such restrictions conflict with VA
                              eligibility standards and result in inequitable access for veterans enrolled
                              at these facilities. VA’s eligibility standards state that most services are to
                              be available to all enrolled veterans, regardless of priority group.9

                              Many facilities also limit the number of veterans who may receive a
                              service at a particular time. As a result, when more veterans need service
                              than the established facility limit, these veterans have to wait for service
                              until space or resources become available. In our survey, 57 of VA’s 139
                              facilities reported that veterans are on waiting lists for one or more of the
                              six noninstitutional services we reviewed as a result of restrictions placed
                              on the number of veterans who may receive a service.

                              We are recommending that VA ensure that its facilities follow VA’s
                              eligibility standards when determining eligibility for noninstitutional long-
                              term care services. The examples we found clearly point out the need for
                              VA to take such action to ensure that facilities follow VA eligibility
                              standards so that similarly situated veterans have access to similar care
                              across the country. VA concurred with this recommendation and stated
                              that the Veterans Health Administration will add eligibility sections in each
                              new directive and handbook concerning Home and Community Based
                              Care Programs. In addition, VA stated that it will provide a detailed action
                              plan to implement this and other recommendations we made on VA’s
                              noninstitutional long-term care services.




                              9
                               Although VA issued a regulation on September 17, 2002, granting priority for appointments
                              to veterans with service-connected disabilities of at least 50 percent and veterans needing
                              care for a service-connected disability, the regulation does not change other veterans’
                              eligibility to receive services.




                              Page 8                                                                       GAO-03-815T
                         A lack of VA emphasis on increasing access to noninstitutional long-term
Lack of Emphasis and     care services and inadequate VA guidance on providing these services
Inadequate Guidance      have contributed to limited access for veterans. Until fiscal year 2003 VA
                         had not provided measurable standards for the provision of these services
Contribute to Limited    or oversight to monitor their provision as it had for high-priority services.
Access                   VA guidance on the provision of noninstitutional long-term care services
                         has left unclear to some facilities how noninstitutional respite care service
                         is to be defined and provided and whether all of the home health services
                         in our review are a part of what VA requires be made available to veterans
                         who need them.


VA Has Not Emphasized    VA network and facility officials told us that VA headquarters has not
Increased Access to      emphasized increased access to noninstitutional long-term care services
Noninstitutional Long-   but emphasized other priorities. As a result, these officials said they use
                         their resources for the priorities VA headquarters emphasizes rather than
Term Care Services       noninstitutional services. For example, officials in 9 of VA’s 21 networks
                         told us that VA headquarters’ emphasis on the performance measure that
                         requires networks to maintain workload in VA nursing homes has led them
                         to devote resources to nursing home care that they might otherwise have
                         used to provide noninstitutional services. One network director told us
                         that the “pressure” from VA headquarters to maintain nursing home
                         utilization is much greater than that to offer noninstitutional services. In
                         another network, an official at a VA facility not offering three of the
                         services in our study told us that these services were “victims of
                         competition for resources.” In other words, the facility had not funded
                         these three noninstitutional services because facility officials had chosen
                         to devote resources to other services. Another network director told us
                         that, if forced to choose between funding different services, the network
                         would allocate resources to services included in a performance measure.

                         One way VA emphasizes services is through performance measures, which
                         VA establishes to monitor network officials’ progress toward meeting
                         certain VA strategic goals, such as increasing veterans’ access to services.
                         VA has demonstrated that requiring network officials to meet measurable
                         performance standards can promote change. For example, since their
                         inception in fiscal year 1996 VA has included a performance measure for
                         providing immunizations to prevent pneumonia to veterans age 65 and
                         older and those at high risk of the disease. VA increased the percentage of
                         such veterans who received the immunization from 26 percent in fiscal
                         year 1996 to 81 percent in fiscal year 2002.




                         Page 9                                                           GAO-03-815T
                           In October 2002, VA introduced a performance measure for
                           noninstitutional long-term care which requires all networks to provide
                           noninstitutional services to a portion of their enrolled veterans needing
                           such services.10 The fiscal year 2003 goal for this measure will require the
                           majority of networks to increase utilization of their noninstitutional
                           services. The performance measure includes five of the services in our
                           review but does not include noninstitutional geriatric evaluation.
                           However, the performance measure does not require networks to ensure
                           that veterans have access to noninstitutional long-term care services at all
                           network facilities. Instead, network performance targets can be achieved
                           if networks increase utilization at facilities that already offer
                           noninstitutional services.

                           We are recommending that VA refine current performance measures to
                           help ensure that all VA facilities provide veterans with access to required
                           noninstitutional services. Without refinements that include individual
                           facility performance, existing measures will not hold networks
                           accountable for providing required services at each facility. VA concurred
                           with this recommendation and stated that the Veterans Health
                           Administration will develop performance measures to underscore the
                           importance VA places on its noninstitutional long-term care programs. In
                           addition, VA stated that it will provide a detailed action plan to implement
                           this and other recommendations we made on VA’s noninstitutional long-
                           term care services.


VA Has Provided            VA headquarters has provided inadequate guidance to networks and
Inadequate Guidance on     facilities on the provision of noninstitutional respite care to address
the Provision of           confusion in the field about what this service is and how it should be
                           provided. This confusion exists, in part, because VA has limited
Noninstitutional Respite   experience with noninstitutional respite care and VA traditionally
Care                       provided respite care in institutions such as nursing homes.
                           Noninstitutional respite care, by contrast, is provided only in
                           noninstitutional settings, such as a veteran’s own home.

                           Although noninstitutional respite care has been required by VA for over a
                           year, VA has not issued adequate guidance on the provision of
                           noninstitutional respite care and VA staff told us they were unsure how to



                           10
                            According to VA, when it plans for noninstitutional services it assumes that the vast
                           majority of veterans will choose to use their Medicare benefits for home health care.




                           Page 10                                                                       GAO-03-815T
                       develop a noninstitutional respite care service. VA issued a directive in
                       October 2001 that requires all facilities to provide noninstitutional respite
                       care to veterans in need of the service yet it inadequately defines
                       noninstitutional respite care and does not provide facilities with
                       information regarding how to provide the service. For example, the
                       directive states that noninstitutional respite care may be provided in a
                       home or other noninstitutional settings. However, it does not specify
                       which noninstitutional settings may be used for the purpose of respite
                       care. In fact, officials in 6 of the 21 networks indicated that there was
                       confusion in their networks about how to establish noninstitutional respite
                       care programs and 1 of these networks reported this was the reason
                       facilities in the network were not providing the service. Further, in our
                       survey, six facilities reported that they offer noninstitutional respite care
                       in community nursing homes, which are institutional settings, thus not
                       meeting the requirement for noninstitutional respite care. VA headquarters
                       officials said they are developing a handbook that will define and provide
                       guidance on the provision of noninstitutional respite care.

                       We are recommending that VA define and provide guidance on
                       noninstitutional respite care so that facilities can be clear on what
                       noninstitutional respite care is and how and where it is to be provided. VA
                       concurred with this recommendation and stated that it will provide a
                       detailed action plan to implement this and other recommendations we
                       made on VA’s noninstitutional long-term care services.


VA Guidance Does Not   VA requires that facilities offer a home health services benefit as part of its
Specify Which Home     medical benefits package.11 VA headquarters officials told us that the home
Health Services Are    services benefit includes home-based primary care, homemaker/home
                       health aide, and skilled home health care. However, VA policy does not
Required               specify whether one, some combination, or all three home health services
                       are required under the home health services benefit. Currently 138 out of
                       VA’s 139 facilities offer at least one of these three home health services, 59
                       facilities offer two of the three services, and 66 facilities offer all three.
                       Without clear guidance to facilities on what services they must make
                       available in order to fulfill the home health services benefit, facilities vary
                       in their interpretation of what is included in the benefit and headquarters
                       cannot ensure that veterans have access to the services to which they are
                       entitled.



                       11
                        The medical benefits package is the set of services to be available to all enrolled veterans.



                       Page 11                                                                        GAO-03-815T
                   Because facilities and networks vary in their interpretation of what is
                   included in the home health services benefit, facilities do not uniformly
                   offer the same home health services. For example, at one facility we
                   visited, an official told us that the facility interpreted the home health
                   services benefit to mean that veterans must have access to skilled home
                   health care—which the facility made available to all veterans. The facility
                   restricted veterans’ access to its homemaker/home health aide and home-
                   based primary care services because facility officials did not believe these
                   services were required under VA’s home health benefit. Similarly, in
                   another network an official told us that the network interpreted the home
                   health services benefit to include all three home care serviceshome-
                   based primary care, homemaker/home health aide, and skilled home
                   health care. As a result, access to these three services varies according to
                   facility interpretation of what is required.

                   We are recommending that VA specify in VA policy whether home-based
                   primary care, homemaker/home health aide, and skilled home health care
                   are to be available to all enrolled veterans. VA concurred with this
                   recommendation and VA stated that it will provide a detailed action plan
                   to implement this and other recommendations we made on VA’s
                   noninstitutional long-term care services.


                   Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I will be pleased to
                   answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may
                   have.


                   For further information regarding this testimony, please contact me at
Contact and        (202) 512-7101. James C. Musselwhite also contributed to this testimony.
Acknowledgements




                   Page 12                                                         GAO-03-815T
Related GAO Products


             VA Long-Term Care: Service Gaps and Facility Restrictions Limit
             Veterans’ Access to Noninstitutional Care. GAO-03-487. Washington, D.C.:
             May 9, 2003.

             Department of Veterans Affairs: Key Management Challenges in Health
             and Disability Programs. GAO-03-756T. Washington, D.C.: May 8, 2003.

             Long-Term Care: Availability of Medicaid Home and Community
             Services for Elderly Individuals Varies Considerably. GAO-02-1121.
             Washington, D.C.: September 26, 2002.

             VA Long-Term Care: The Availability of Noninstitutional Services Is
             Uneven. GAO-02-652T. Washington, D.C.: April 25, 2002.

             VA Long-Term Care: Implementation of Certain Millennium Act
             Provisions Is Incomplete, and Availability of Noninstitutional Services
             Is Uneven. GAO-02-510R. Washington, D.C.: March 29, 2002.

             Veterans’ Affairs: Observations on Selected Features of the Proposed
             Veterans’ Millennium Health Care Act. GAO/T-HEHS-99-125. Washington,
             D.C.: May 19, 1999.




(290292)
             Page 13                                                      GAO-03-815T
This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the
United States. It may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further
permission from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images or
other material, permission from the copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to
reproduce this material separately.
                         The General Accounting Office, the audit, evaluation and investigative arm of
GAO’s Mission            Congress, exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities
                         and to help improve the performance and accountability of the federal
                         government for the American people. GAO examines the use of public funds;
                         evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses,
                         recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed
                         oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO’s commitment to good government
                         is reflected in its core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability.


                         The fastest and easiest way to obtain copies of GAO documents at no cost is
Obtaining Copies of      through the Internet. GAO’s Web site (www.gao.gov) contains abstracts and full-
GAO Reports and          text files of current reports and testimony and an expanding archive of older
                         products. The Web site features a search engine to help you locate documents
Testimony                using key words and phrases. You can print these documents in their entirety,
                         including charts and other graphics.
                         Each day, GAO issues a list of newly released reports, testimony, and
                         correspondence. GAO posts this list, known as “Today’s Reports,” on its Web site
                         daily. The list contains links to the full-text document files. To have GAO e-mail
                         this list to you every afternoon, go to www.gao.gov and select “Subscribe to daily
                         E-mail alert for newly released products” under the GAO Reports heading.


Order by Mail or Phone   The first copy of each printed report is free. Additional copies are $2 each. A
                         check or money order should be made out to the Superintendent of Documents.
                         GAO also accepts VISA and Mastercard. Orders for 100 or more copies mailed to a
                         single address are discounted 25 percent. Orders should be sent to:
                         U.S. General Accounting Office
                         441 G Street NW, Room LM
                         Washington, D.C. 20548
                         To order by Phone:     Voice:    (202) 512-6000
                                                TDD:      (202) 512-2537
                                                Fax:      (202) 512-6061


                         Contact:
To Report Fraud,
                         Web site: www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm
Waste, and Abuse in      E-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov
Federal Programs         Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470


                         Jeff Nelligan, Managing Director, NelliganJ@gao.gov (202) 512-4800
Public Affairs           U.S. General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149
                         Washington, D.C. 20548