Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins visited Cary Medical Center in Caribou with Representative Bruce Poliquin and Veterans Affairs (VA) Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin to discuss the vital importance of the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program that provides our northern Maine veterans with local access to health care. Senator Collins invited Dr. Shulkin to tour Cary Medical Center so that he could learn more about the highly successful, popular, and cost-effective ARCH program.
During the visit, Dr. Shulkin announced that the VA intends to use Secretarial authority to pursue an administrative solution that would provide seamless community care for veterans currently using the ARCH program. According to Dr. Shulkin, the VA is committed to using this authority to ensure continuity of care for our northern Maine veterans.
“We can all agree that we can never fully repay the debts that we owe our veterans, but we must provide each of them with the convenient, quality health care that they have earned,” said Senator Collins.
“Ensuring that ARCH veterans receive seamless care consistent with the care they currently receive is paramount. ARCH is so well regarded by our veterans and their families, and it should be the model for the nation.”
“I want to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Shulkin for coming to Aroostook County and seeing for himself why the ARCH program works so well,” Senator Collins continued. “I was encouraged to hear that the VA is committed to ensuring that our veterans in northern Maine have access to quality health care that is close to home and their loved ones. While the VA works toward an administrative solution that will provide all our veterans with seamless community care, I will continue to advocate for a permanent, legislative solution.”
ARCH is a pilot program that has been operating at Cary Medical Center in Caribou since 2011 and is due to expire on August 7, 2016. According to Cary Medical Center, the program serves more than 1,300 local veterans and has provided in excess of 17,000 medical appointments since its inception. According to a VA-sponsored analysis, the average cost per veteran in Maine using the ARCH program is less than half the average cost for VHA direct care. Without the ARCH program, veterans in northern Maine would have to travel up to 600 miles roundtrip to access care at the Togus VA Hospital in Augusta.
Following Senator Collins’ strong advocacy, the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee included a two-year ARCH extension in the Senate Committee-passed FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill. Senator Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, voted in favor of the bill, which was approved unanimously and now awaits final consideration by the full Senate.
Senator Collins, along with Senator Angus King, also introduced bipartisan legislation in March 2016 to allow the ARCH program to continue operating through 2021. That same month, Senator Collins met with Deputy Secretary Gibson in her Washington, D.C., office to emphasize the importance of extending the ARCH program.