CONCORD, N.H. — Months of unpaid invoices to the Department of Veterans Affairs has prompted a health care provider in New Hampshire to stop servicing more than a dozen veterans in New Hampshire.
The Boston Globe reports owners of Right at Home stopped caring for 16 veterans as of Friday because they were unable to get about $60,000 in bills paid by the VA. Owners of the Londonderry company said Tuesday they had been trying to get payments for months and warned the VA two weeks ago they would have to end services if they didn’t get assurances their outstanding invoices would be paid. After putting in $20,000 of their own money, they felt they had no choice but to suspend services.
"It's extremely frustrating," said Rich Sullivan, who co-owns the company with his wife Janet. "We're a small family business. We can't function properly for all our clients if we are not getting paid by one very large organization."
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The VA in a statement blamed the company for failing to include complete Social Security numbers on invoices and promised to make the payments once the correct invoices were submitted.
"We regret any inconvenience this situation has caused Veterans, but the bottom line is that to process invoices from community providers such as Right at Home, VA requires that vendors include the Veteran's social security number on the claim form, which is a national standard used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services," Steve Piork of the VA Office of Public Affairs said.
Sullivan called the response from the VA "woefully inadequate and not accurate." He complained the policy requiring Social Security numbers is new — for decades only the last four digits were needed — and that his company only learned of the policy through a voice mail. No one contacted them directly.
Secondly, the couple said many of their claims go back until late 2017 and thus predate the policy change on Social Security numbers. Instead, they said some of their claims were mistakenly rejected while others were turned down after the VA changed the policy on the types of coding needed for invoices.
Additionally, they said it was often difficult, if not, impossible to track the status of the claims or talk to anyone from the VA about their claims.
"We understand these things take time," said Janet Sullivan, who called each of the veterans to advise them that they would stop providing services such as housekeeping, bathing and meal preparation. "But if we are still waiting for claims to be paid for the end of last year and the beginning of this year, that is an extraordinary amount of time."
While Right at Home was drawing attention to their VA billing woes, at least one New Hampshire politician said theirs was not an isolated case.
"Payments issues with the VA have been a persistent problem. I've written to Secretary (Robert) Wilkie urging him to focus on resolving payment issues in New Hampshire as quickly as possible," Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster said in an email interview. "We cannot ensure quality care for the men and women who have served in uniform if we don't properly reimburse providers."
The VA said it has worked since January to speed up the processing of claims, boosting the numbers of claims processed each month from 140,000 to 700,000 in July. As for Right at Home, Rich Sullivan said they have seen communication with the VA over their claims improve over the past week. But they are still waiting to be paid and have no guarantee their invoices won't be rejected again.
The billing problems are just the latest setback for the VA in New Hampshire.
Last year, then Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin removed top officials from the Manchester VA medical center and appointed the task force last summer after the Globe reported whistleblower complaints about substandard care and treatment at the facility. Several whistleblowers described a fly-infested operating room, surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly.