WASHINGTON — A top Veterans Affairs official told lawmakers Wednesday that the government’s network of private doctors available to veterans at taxpayer expense is ‘‘too complicated’’ for veterans, physicians, and VA employees.
Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, laying out a plan to merge and expand VA’s private health care system, said reforming what has become an inefficient, unwieldy bureaucracy is crucial to making outside care ‘‘part of the fabric of VA care’’ to meet a growing demand from veterans.
‘‘Where it makes sense to outsource, believe me, we’re going to move in that direction,’’ Gibson said at a hearing before the House Veterans Committee.
VA officials had a delicate balancing act before them: To convince lawmakers skeptical that they are moving to privatize the country’s largest health care system that they are not — and others skeptical that they have the management skills to achieve the consolidation they want.
‘‘We cannot provide every [medical] service in every location to every single veteran,’’ said Baligh Yehia, VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary for Health for Community Care. ‘‘This doesn’t mean we’re outsourcing VA or dismantling VA. We want a complementary system. VA will still provide foundational services.’’
The New Veterans Choice Program would combine seven of the agency’s existing private health care arrangements into a single system with the goal of eliminating gaps in care. The proposed overhaul for veterans who can go to private doctors if they live too far from a VA hospital or need a specialist is the agency’s latest effort to recover from a scandal over patient wait times.
Lawmakers were concerned about the cost of the overhaul, which VA projects to reach $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion in each of the first three years.