VA and DOD Health Care:

Resource Sharing At Selected Sites

GAO-04-792: Published: Jul 21, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 2004.

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Cynthia A. Bascetta
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Congress has long encouraged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to share health resources to promote cost-effective use of health resources and efficient delivery of care. In February 2002, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs described VA and DOD health care resource sharing activities at nine locations. GAO was asked to describe the health resource sharing activities that are occurring at these sites. GAO also examined seven other sites that actively participate in sharing activities. Specifically, GAO is reporting on (1) the types of benefits that have been realized from health resource sharing activities and (2) VA- and DOD-identified obstacles that impede health resource sharing. GAO analyzed agency documents and interviewed officials at DOD and VA to obtain information on the benefits achieved through sharing activities. The nine sites reviewed by the Committee and reexamined by GAO are: 1) Los Angeles, CA; 2) San Diego, CA; 3) North Chicago, IL; 4) Albuquerque, NM; 5) Las Vegas, NV; 6) Fayetteville, NC; 7) Charleston, SC; 8) El Paso, TX; and 9) San Antonio, TX. The seven additional sites GAO examined are: 1) Anchorage, AK; 2) Fairfield, CA; 3) Key West, FL; 4) Pensacola, FL; 5) Honolulu, HI; 6) Louisville, KY; and 7) Puget Sound, WA. In commenting on a draft of this report, the departments generally agreed with our findings.

At the 16 sites GAO reviewed, VA and DOD are realizing benefits from sharing activities, specifically better facility utilization, greater access to care, and reduced federal costs. While all 16 sites are engaged in health resource sharing activities, some sites share significantly more resources than others. For example, at one site VA was able to utilize Navy facilities to provide additional sources of care and reduce its reliance on civilian providers, thus lowering its purchased care cost by about $385,000 annually. Also, because of the sharing activity taking place at this site, VA has modified its plans to build a new $100 million hospital and instead plans to build a clinic that will cost about $45 million. However, at another site the sharing activity was limited to the use of a nurse practitioner to assist with primary care and the sharing of a psychiatrist and a psychologist. GAO found that the primary obstacle cited by almost all of the agency officials interviewed was the inability of VA and DOD computer systems to communicate and exchange patient health information between departments. VA and DOD medical facilities involved in treating both agencies' patient populations must expend staff resources to enter information on the health care provided into the patient records in both systems. Local VA officials also expressed a concern that security screening procedures have increased the time it takes for VA beneficiaries and their families to gain entry to facilities located on Air Force, Army, and Navy installations during periods of heightened security.

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