Ernst Calls on VA to Extend Freeze for Vets’ Medical Bill Payments Amid COVID-19

After hearing from Iowa veterans, Ernst is also urging the VA to proactively notify veterans of resources and payment plan options available to them

WASHINGTON – After hearing directly from Iowa veterans facing financial strains amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a combat veteran herself, is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to extend its freeze on veterans’ medical bill payments through July 2021. Ernst is also urging the VA to proactively notify veterans of payment plan options or any other assistance that may be available to them and to ensure that their call centers are fully staffed and operational.
 
“Many of our Iowa veterans have experienced serious financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the VA has acted to help relieve some of those financial burdens, it’s critical we extend this relief and that our veterans are notified about the resources and medical bill payment plan options available to them. Our veterans sacrificed to defend our nation and our freedom, and it’s vital that we make sure they get the support they need during these difficult times,” said Senator Joni Ernst.
 
In April 2020, the VA made the decision to place veterans’ monthly copay patient statements on hold through December 2020 due to the pandemic. In January 2021, veterans will receive statements that may include the total amount of copay charges for medical care and prescriptions received during the 8-month hold period, as well as unpaid copay charges for medical care and prescriptions received before April 2020. Iowa veterans have contacted Senator Ernst’s office explaining that given the pandemic they are still simply not prepared to pay the accumulated charge. In addition, veterans have explained that they have not received information from the VA regarding what options may be available to those who are experiencing continued financial hardship.
 
Senator Ernst’s letter to the VA can be viewed by clicking HERE or in the text below:
 
Secretary Wilkie,
 
As you know, it is one of my top priorities to improve processes at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better ensure that our veterans receive the support and care they have earned and have been promised. Today, I am writing to inquire about how the VA may be able to further assist our veterans who may be facing financial strains due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
As you know, COVID-19 has presented many challenges to our veterans across the country, many of whom have faced isolation, medical concerns, and economic uncertainty. It is my understanding the VA made a decision in April 2020 to place monthly patient billing statements for veterans’ health care costs on hold until December 31, 2020. More recently, the VA announced that these statements would remain on hold until January 2021. Notably, veterans were not required to opt in or to provide consent for these holds, and instead had their bills delayed automatically by the VA.
 
Veterans have now begun to receive notification of their statements for medical bills that accumulated over the eight-month hold period. While these statements do not require payment until 2021, many veterans who are receiving such statements have not experienced an improvement in their financial situations since April, and are simply not prepared to pay the accumulated charge. Additionally, I have heard concerns from veterans in Iowa who have not received information from the VA regarding what options may be available to those who are experiencing continued financial hardship.
 
In light of the direct impact this policy has on our veterans during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I respectfully request that the VA further delay the payment hold for an additional six months, through July 2021. During these challenging times, I also urge your department to proactively notify veterans of payment plan options, or any other assistance that may be available to them, and ensure that all help call lines are fully staffed and operational.
 
I look forward to receiving your response. I remain deeply committed to working with you and your Department to ensure that all veterans in Iowa and across the country have access to quality care and services.
 
Sincerely,
 
Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator
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