Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ascension Health to Woo Veterans in Ads

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ascension Health to Woo Veterans in Ads

Article excerpt

A leading hospital system in the U.S. is courting military veterans with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, sparking concern from some veterans groups that such a marketing push could weaken the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

The campaign tag lines "Veterans have a choice in healthcare" and "You honored your oath, and so do we" emphasize consumer preference and the shared values of medical professionals and the military.

Starting Monday, TV, radio, print and online ads by Edmundson- based Ascension Health will urge veterans to call a toll-free number for information about Veterans Choice, the cornerstone of the VA overhaul approved in 2014, which makes it easier for veterans to receive federally paid medical care from local doctors.

Ascension is both the nation's largest nonprofit and Catholic health care system, with facilities in 24 states.

Veterans say it's the first large-scale marketing to Choice- eligible veterans.

Vets are wary of proposals to privatize the VA health system and fear that draining off patients and dollars could hurt the VA in the long term, said Louis Celli of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group. Though they supported the Choice legislation after a scandal over long wait times and falsified records, most want the program to remain temporary, he said.

More than 4.6 million veterans used VA health care last year, and the VA says it has reduced its waiting list while authorizing millions of veterans to receive care in the private sector.

Congress approved $10 billion over three years for the Choice program, money that will go to private sector providers at Medicare rates, a potentially valuable revenue stream. To be eligible, veterans must live more than 40 miles away from a VA medical facility or face a long wait for VA care. …

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