OC Reilly Blog: Preparing for Unintended Consequences

By Bill O’Connor, President and CEO, OC Reilly Inc.


The recent Veterans Affairs scandal – where many hundreds of U.S. veterans were forced to wait weeks and months for treatment, with some even dying before receiving attention – has resulted in uncharacteristically swift action in Congress to help remedy the problem.

But, as with so many actions taken in haste and with good intentions, some unanticipated consequences have begun to bubble to the surface.  The health care industry, once again, may be caught in the squeeze.

Bills passed in the House and Senate on two consecutive days earlier in June are very similar, permitting veterans to visit private doctors at the VA’s expense (at no more than Medicare rates) if those veterans cannot get an appointment in a timely manner, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 8.4 million veterans already get health care from the VA, with another 8 million eligible.

But as word gets around that veterans could bypass the VA and go straight to private doctors – with the VA footing the bill – the CBO estimates that the program (if made permanent) could ultimately cost up to $50 billion a year.  According to an article in the June 16, 2014, issue of Modern Healthcare, “With a new law looming, non-VA providers are bracing for a possible onslaught of new patients.”

Health care systems that maintain affiliations and associations with private health care providers will feel the impact of this potential wave of new patients – along with the federal guidelines and Medicare-restricted fees they will bring as part of the law’s provisions.  Knowing how to process these patients efficiently and cost-effectively will be an important factor in this coming event.  Third-party consultants familiar with these guidelines can offer valuable insight and direction.

But those considerations – while important – must never supersede the need to honor our veterans with respect, by providing them quality health care in a timely manner.