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    Friday, October 19, 2018-3:59:12P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Kilili: Choice providers triple for Marianas vets

(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — After wrapping up a series of workshops on the Veterans Choice Program for veterans and dozens of local health-care providers on Rota, Tinian, and Saipan last week, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan announced that the number of community-care providers available to island veterans is now three times what it was a month ago.

“As of this week, we have nearly 70 health-care providers in the Marianas who are enrolled in the Choice network and are ready and able to serve our veterans — up from a little over 20 just a few weeks ago,” Congressman Sablan said.

“This means that eligible veterans now have access, through the Choice program, to almost all of the providers at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, including the Rota and Tinian Health Centers, the Kagman Community Health Center, and about a dozen private clinics in the Marianas for services that include primary care, specialty care, physical therapy, eye care, and mental health.”

Gregorio Kilili Camacho SablanGregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

The Veterans Choice program was created by Congress in 2014 to provide veterans across the nation with options to seek health care in their communities, when care from the Department of Veterans Affairs is not readily available. At last week’s workshops, Sablan noted that the need for health care alternatives was especially great in remote and rural areas of America, such as the Marianas.

“VA doctors and clinics were too far away or required getting on a plane or boat, and veterans were waiting too long to get the VA care they needed,” he said.

But after the Veterans Choice Program was launched in Hawaii and the Pacific island territories in 2015, Sablan saw the need for greater awareness among both veterans and providers in the Marianas.

“In talking with veterans and providers here, it was clear to me that word had not gotten out. Veterans did not know they had the option of going to community providers. And community providers did not join the Choice network. Or providers joined Choice, but did not fully understand how it worked,” he said.

To address these concerns, the congressman invited David McIntyre, CEO and president of TriWest, the company that manages Choice for the VA in 28 states and the Pacific territories, to personally visit the Marianas to conduct a series of workshops for veterans, their families, and providers. McIntyre and TriWest Pacific Regional Director Karl Kiyokawa traveled to Rota, Tinian, and Saipan with the congressman last week. They met with more than 80 veterans and their family members, and trained dozens of clinical and administrative representatives from public and private health care facilities across the Marianas. A total of seven workshops — four for providers and three for veterans and their families — were held on the three islands. The VA Pacific Islands Health Care System also sent a representative, Administrative Officer Mr. Francisco “Orlando” Valdez to serve as a VA resource and answer questions at the workshops.  

“I am grateful to Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Kiyokawa for conducting these workshops and meeting with veterans and providers on all three of our islands to get the ‘ground truth’ about the challenges veterans face here in getting the care they need and deserve,” Sablan said. “And I thank VAPIHCS Director Jennifer Gutowski and her representative, Mr. Valdez, for supporting the congressional office’s outreach as well.”

Sablan also announced to veterans and providers that the Veterans Choice program and VA health care received a $3.9 billion funding boost from Congress.

“Choice has proven to be so popular among veterans that the cost is greater than was first budgeted for, and the money was going to run out this month,” Congressman Sablan said.

“The Trump administration had proposed taking money away from some vets to give to others to keep the Choice program going, but this was not a plan that I or other Democrats on the Veterans Affairs Committee could agree to. We blocked the Trump proposal until we could come up with emergency funding instead.

“And fortunately, just before we recessed this month, agreement was reached among the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the appropriations committees, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the White House to add more money to the program through this alternative mechanism.”

To confirm their eligibility and request an appointment with a community care provider through Choice, veterans should call the toll-free Veterans Choice line, at 1-866-606-8198. The TriWest call center in Honolulu has a team dedicated to the Marianas that operates Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Marianas time). Providers in the TriWest network are certified to meet the VA’s quality standards. All care must be authorized by TriWest before services can be rendered. Veterans may directly request their own appointments through the Veterans Choice line and do not need a Choice card or a referral from the VA to use Choice. If a veteran opts to use Choice, TriWest is the primary payer and providers will not collect any copays, cost-shares, or deductibles from the veteran.

For more information about the Veterans Choice program, visit www.triwest.com or https://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact or contact the congressional office at kilili@mail.house.gov or (670) 323-2647.