MADELIA -- Hospitals in Madelia and St. Peter have seen upticks in veterans seeking care this year after a new law opened up more health care options for patients with Veterans Administration benefits.
The MISSION Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in June 2018, established a new community care program allowing VA benefits to cover care outside VA clinics. The law included an urgent care benefit, making it possible for veterans to seek non-emergency care for some conditions at hospitals or clinics in the VA network.
The Madelia Hospital and River's Edge Hospital in St. Peter are among the few in-network providers in south-central Minnesota -- MedExpress Urgent Care in Mankato and Sanford Clinic in Mountain Lake are also in network.
Madelia CEO Jeff Mengenhausen, a veteran himself, said the hospital is treating more veterans as a result of the law.
"They can come here for emergency care and urgent care and procedures without having to drive up to the cities or a long way," he said.
Through the VA's previous community care program, Madelia treated 249 veterans in 2018. The MISSION Act took effect in June, fueling a rise to 293 veterans treated at the hospital in 2019 as of Oct. 31.
River's Edge Chief Financial Officer Lori Zook said the St. Peter health center is also seeing a rise.
"We have been seeing a number of veterans looking for inpatient care," she said. "Anecdotally, we've had an uptick as well."
Zook said the number could pick up even more as flu season continues. The rise at River's Edge has so far been mainly from inpatient care, but urgent care units typically handle patients coming in with flu symptoms.
The MISSION Act was designed to reduce travel time for veterans seeking care. They can generally elect to go to facilities like Madelia and River's Edge if the nearest VA clinic offering similar care is more than a 30-minute drive away.
Madelia can provide services ranging from colonoscopies to pain injections to imaging, but not primary care. Pat Corrow, Blue Earth County's assistant veterans service officer, said he knows of veterans who've received urgent care at MedExpress or emergency room care at River's Edge after the law change.
"Before the veteran would have to go either to the Minneapolis VA to their emergency room or their local emergency room, and nine times out of 10, that expense was on the veteran," he said.
The law has been working as intended, he added, with veterans telling him they've had good experiences at the in-network providers. Not all veterans are eligible for VA benefits, but he encouraged those who are to work with their local VA clinic to explore their care options.
Many tests and procedures require the VA's preauthorization, as certain services would be available at VA clinics. Mengenhausen, who was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq during a Navy career spanning 2001 to 2010, said the Madelia hospital also helps veterans through the preauthorization process.
To find health centers in network for the MISSION Act's urgent care benefit, go to www.vaurgentcarelocator.triwest.com. The Madelia hospital isn't on the searchable map showing facilities taking urgent care VA benefits, but Mengenhausen said paperwork has been filed to add it to the map and the hospital will continue to care for veteran patients in the interim.
This article is written by Brian Arola from The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.