- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Representatives from dozens of Arkansas medical facilities told stories Wednesday of lost medical records, requests for reimbursement that have gone unpaid for months and other problems when asking federal officials to pay for medical care provided to veterans.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, sent staff members to facilitate a meeting between local and federal Veterans Affairs officials, medical facilities, physicians’ advocates and veterans groups at Pulaski County Technical College in North Little Rock.

VA officials said new timeliness standards meant to cut down on wait times for veterans seeking medical care will also cut back on how long those medical facilities will have to wait. State officials were concerned that cutting down on the time it takes to consider a payment request might lead to more claims being denied.

Steve Gray, a former veterans and military liaison for Boozman’s office, said he had surveyed the 60 hospitals and medical facilities that have complained about the late payments over the past few years on Monday. He said 35 of the medical centers responded with more than 4,400 outstanding claims worth upwards of $25 million.

Steve Lange, the executive director of the revenue cycle at the White River Health System, said he sent a box of medical records to the regional center for review and payment months ago.

“It’s been over 180 days. We track every contact we make on those claims consistently,” he said.

Joe Enderle, the director of the VA’s Chief Business Office of Purchased Care, said the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 has started several pilot programs to make the system more uniform and ultimately meet the goal of having 80 percent of medical reimbursement claims decided in 30 days or less. The act also included money for new hiring and mandatory overtime to try to clear the existing backlog.

“We admit we’ve had some challenges. We’ve had some staffing issues. There was a hiring freeze at one time,” Enderle said. “We’ve had some IT issues. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not trying to make excuses. We’ve had some issues, and we want to fix that.”

VA officials said as of Wednesday, the Veterans of the Ozarks system in Fayetteville had 13,440 claims, about 9,000 of which or 66.26 percent were less than 30 days old. For the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System based in Little Rock had 7,415 claims, about 5,800 of which or 78 percent were less than 30 days old.

Ken Griffin, the Military and Veterans Affairs liaison for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said he was concerned about those numbers because they included rejected claims. He said he worried that the push to deal with claims faster would lead to more requests for payment being rejected.

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