By PAUL J. WEBER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Gov. Rick Perry was set to announce Thursday efforts to identify Texas hospitals that are willing to take more patients out of backlogged Veterans Affairs facilities and to propose reimbursement through Medicare so providers are paid more quickly.
Several of the largest health systems in Texas -- some of which already accept VA patients -- have signed onto the idea, according to Perry aides. Perry's plans would require the federal government's approval.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a bill making it easier for veterans who have encountered delays getting initial visits to receive VA-paid treatment from local doctors instead. The House passed a similar measure Tuesday. Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said Perry's proposal to the Veteran Affairs Department builds on those measures by identifying hospitals "willing to step up" and offering a solution to slow reimbursements for providers.
Federal data released this week showed that VA facilities in Texas have some of the longest wait times for veterans trying to see a doctor for the first time. The FBI has now launched an investigation into the Veteran Affairs Department amid allegations of falsified records and inappropriate scheduling practices.
The Associated Press received details of Perry's plans ahead of his planned announcement at Fort Hood, where he will attend a groundbreaking for a new medical facility specializing in mental health treatment.
"There is no greater charge than taking care of those who have served in our nation's Armed Forces, which is why we are working to offer alternatives for veterans who have found their federal options lacking, or worse, non-existent," Perry said.
Among providers that have bought into the plan proposed by Perry are Baylor Scott and White, Christus Health and hospitals and clinics operated by the University of North Texas and University of Texas systems, Nashed said.
Christus Health spokeswoman Abby McNeil said their system that operates more than 40 hospitals and facilities in Texas and beyond has difficulties getting reimbursed. Christus now has a backlog of 1,500 claims across Texas that are more than 30 days late in being paid, she said, adding that the system has sought help from Texas' congressional delegation.
Asked what would be different this time, McNeil said the recent problems at the VA have given state and federal leaders a new sense of urgency.
"I think it's something that's got a lot more focus right now and that we've seen worked on from lots of different levels," she said. "We've got everyone trying to figure out how to try and fix the problem."
Veterans aren't supposed to wait more than 14 days for an appointment, but a national audit this week stated that's "not attainable," given growing demand for VA services and poor planning.
Veterans in Texas dealing with long wait times for treatment were expected to testify Thursday before the state Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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