Moving Forward at the VA – Legislative Victory Gives a Boost to both Veterans and Podiatrists
New legislation at the federal level is something to celebrate, and we at the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS) are applauding the work of members of Congress and advocates for podiatric medicine. The Senate just passed S 2372 – the MISSION Act – otherwise known as VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018. This legislation, sponsored by John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson, is meant to comprehensively reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system. Having already passed the House, the bill will move to President Trump who is expected to sign it before the end of May 2018.
Once the MISSION Act goes into effect, podiatrists will be reclassified within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) as podiatric surgeons, which will place them in the same pay range as osteopathic and allopathic doctors. Why is this important? It will go far in addressing recruitment and retention concerns within the VHA and help ensure our veterans have easy access to the best foot and ankle care available.
The VA has had difficulty staffing hospitals and other health VA health facilities with foot and ankle experts, and finally classifying podiatrists as surgeons helps ensure that VA health facilities are properly staffed with qualified, board certified foot and ankle surgeons.
The MISSION Act, which includes language from the VA Provider Equity Act (introduced by Representative Brad Wenstrup, DPM and Senator Bill Cassidy, MD), represents the most significant advancement in more than 40 years for podiatrists who work for the federal government. It is the first bill passed by Congress that relates specifically to podiatry.
The MISSION Act accomplishes other feats in VA healthcare as well, combining the VA’s seven community care programs into one. The bill provides for an additional $5.2 billion for the Choice Program – a program that allows Veterans to obtain care from non-VA providers under certain conditions. It also expands the circumstances that allow veterans to seek out care from non-VA providers, removing limitations of getting care outside of the VA system when that type of care is not available within the system. And in an effort to keep the VA system strong and vibrant, the Act boosts funding to recruit doctors and other providers to the VA to improve capacity and give veterans more choices for their care.
This was a long, hard-fought victory, and many people deserve recognition for the tireless work they put in to help ensure veterans get easy access to qualified foot and ankle surgeons. The work was led by Benjamin J. Wallner, APMA Director of Legislative Advocacy and APMAPAC. Through regular contact with the staff of congressional sponsors, the team created opportunities to help move the bill forward. Many citizens helped as well by contacting their elected officials to advocate for podiatry and recognizing podiatrists as surgeons. We thank all of you for your contributions.
With podiatrists finally elevated and recognized as surgeons within the VA, the chances of passing the HELLPP Act (Helping Ensure Life-and Limb-Saving Access to Podiatric Physicians Act) have improved. The HELLPP Act seeks to recognize podiatrists for their care of Medicaid patients.