By John M. O’Brien, Associated PressWASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs’ new dialysis care program will include a CVS location in New Orleans, the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday.
The new service, which is expected to begin in January, is the latest step in a long-term plan to connect veterans with primary care providers across the country.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced the plan in September, a move that critics have said will hurt some of the more than 1.3 million veterans who are currently receiving dialysis.
Under the new service plan, VA hospitals will offer patients with dialysis in their local CVS pharmacy, instead of a local VA facility.
Veterans who have dialysis will be able to use the same CVS, which has been criticized for being difficult to navigate.
The plan is a response to criticism that the VA lacked the capacity to handle the increase in dialysis cases, according to VA officials.
The VA has been struggling with an aging population and chronic underfunding.
In fiscal 2017, the VA spent $12.3 billion on dialysis treatment, according the Department of Defense.
It has about 14,000 dialysis beds in the U.S., but only 3,500 are open.
About 90 percent of those dialysis appointments happen at Veterans Affairs hospitals in the states of Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The service will be offered to about 1,300 veterans each week.CVS, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, said it would also offer dialysis to veterans at its new St. John’s, New Jersey, store, where the veterans will have access to the same pharmacy and will be treated at the same rate.
Veterans can still make a phone call to the VA in Louisiana or the VA’s dialysis facility in St. George, Utah, officials said.
The move comes after more than 10 years of working with CVS on the dialysis service.
VA Secretary Eric Shoup said the VA will provide the veterans with access to all its pharmacy services, including all CVS services, in Louisiana, Utah and Arizona.
The change is being announced in response to a growing number of complaints about the VA medical system and a growing awareness among patients that dialysis is an effective treatment option.
More than half of veterans who received dialysis treatments received it in a VA facility, according a survey by the American Medical Association last year.
A VA review last year found that about two-thirds of veterans treated at VA facilities have dialysed.
About 70 percent of dialysis users have been successfully transitioned to a different VA facility for treatment, Shinseke said.
Veterans have been able to obtain dialysis services in the past through the VA Healthcare Access Network, but the program has struggled to keep pace with demand.