VA Took Step to Suspend Copay & Medical Billing Through December 31 in Response to Pandemic; Senator Calls to Extend Billing Moratorium as Financial Hardships Continue for Families & Veterans Across the Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/22/20]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is pressing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for answers after hearing from veterans who are set to receive medical bills for accrued copay and medical costs incurred during a VA billing moratorium issued in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Earlier this year, the VA suspended copay and other medical billing through December 31 to help veterans weather the hardships of COVID-19. Now, Sen. Smith is hearing from veterans who say they have received word from the VA that come January, they will receive bills for costs during the billing moratorium. Sen. Smith is calling on the VA to extend this moratorium, and to provide answers on the VA’s billing practices.

“At the beginning of April, 2020, VA took the laudable step of suspending copay and other medical billing through December 31st, 2020, which helped our veterans through the initial economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I recently learned that VA sent out letters to Veterans notifying them that they will receive a bill in January to collect the accrued copay and medical debts incurred during this time. While I recognize the financial and operational necessity of collecting these bills, the extraordinary conditions that necessitated the billing suspension have not ended,” wrote Sen. Smith. “The pandemic is ongoing, and for many American families and veterans, the accompanying economic distress is more acute than ever. We must keep our focus on ensuring the full health and wellbeing of our veterans and their families. Therefore, at a minimum, I urge you to extend the billing moratorium through at least the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

In addition, Sen. Smith is asking for the VA to provide answers about whether veterans will be billed for COVID-related testing, and a detailed plan for how the VA will work with folks who are unable to cover debts due to the COVID-19 crisis.

You can access full text of the letter below:

Richard A. Stone, M.D.

Executive in Charge

Veterans Health Administration

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Dr. Stone:

I write to inquire about the steps the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking to help veterans weather the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to urge you to use all the tools at VA’s disposal to help veterans continue receiving care without imposing additional financial hardships.

At the beginning of April, 2020, VA took the laudable step of suspending copay and other medical billing through December 31st, 2020, which helped our veterans through the initial economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I recently learned that VA sent out letters to Veterans notifying them that they will receive a bill in January to collect the accrued copay and medical debts incurred during this time. While I recognize the financial and operational necessity of collecting these bills, the extraordinary conditions that necessitated the billing suspension have not ended. The pandemic is ongoing, and for many American families and veterans, the accompanying economic distress is more acute than ever. We must keep our focus on ensuring the full health and wellbeing of our veterans and their families. Therefore, at a minimum, I urge you to extend the billing moratorium through at least the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Additionally, please provide written answers to the following questions by January 11th, 2021, regarding the implementation of billing practices to collect on copays and medical debts incurred from April 6th through December 31st, 2020, as well as actions to suspend copay debt owed to VA:

  1. Will veterans be billed for COVID-related testing? Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127), VA is prohibited from charging copayments or other cost sharing measures for COVID-19 testing and outpatient visits related to testing for the duration of the public health emergency.
  2. Is VA considering extending the billing deferral period for non-COVID care given the ongoing public health emergency and economic uncertainty facing many veterans?  
  3. Please provide a detailed plan for how VA will work with veterans unable to cover debts incurred due to financial hardships during the COVID-19 crisis?
  4. Given the continued financial hardship and uncertainty that veterans are facing during this time, are you considering waiving the debt entirely?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to your response, and to working with you to protect our veterans’ health and well-being during this most difficult time.

Sincerely,

Issues