Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representative Bruce Poliquin announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Cary Medical Center in Caribou have signed a provider agreement that will allow eligible veterans in northern Maine to continue to receive the medical services currently offered through the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program. In addition, through this agreement, veterans will now have access to podiatry, ophthalmology and pain management services at Cary Medical Center.
“I’ve heard from countless Maine veterans about the extraordinary success of ARCH in eliminating long and difficult travel, reducing wait times, and providing access to high-quality care in their communities. Given how well regarded ARCH is by our veterans and their families, I have strongly advocated for the program to be used as the model for the nation,” said Senator Collins. “This provider agreement appears to be a positive step that will allow ARCH veterans to receive seamless care consistent with what they are currently receiving. I am encouraged that the VA is committed to ensuring that our veterans in northern Maine have access to quality health care they have earned and deserve. At the same time, I will continue to advocate for a permanent solution.”
“Maine veterans deserve convenient, high-quality health care services, which is exactly what the ARCH program has delivered to veterans in Aroostook County over the past five years,” Senator King said. “And this provider agreement is a welcome step forward in the effort to help ensure that ARCH veterans continue to have access to those services. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Maine delegation to find a long-term solution that meets the community care needs of our veterans, and I see this provider agreement as good indication that the VA is committed to maintaining the same high standard of care that our veterans are receiving today at Cary Medical Center.”
"After meeting and talking with hundreds of our Veterans in Aroostook County and hearing their praises about the ARCH Program, there should be no question that this important program must be made permanent," said Congressman Poliquin. "Today's announcement about the provider agreement is an important step and extremely encouraging news for our Veterans in the Country that rely on this important program to receive their health care. I am proud to join with Senators Collins and King to continue to push for our Veterans to have the support they have earned and deserve."
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. More than 90 percent of veterans participating in ARCH are overwhelmingly satisfied with their access to care and the medical services they receive. 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 ability to continue receiving service initiated by 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.
Earlier this month, Dr. David Shulkin, the VA Undersecretary for Health, met with Senator King and toured Cary Medical Center with Senator Collins and Representative Poliquin at the Maine delegation’s invitation to learn more about the highly successful, popular, and cost-effective ARCH program. During the visit, Dr. Shulkin remarked that the VA intended to use Secretarial waiver authority to pursue an administrative solution that would provide seamless community care for veterans currently using the ARCH program after it sunsets this August.
Following Senator Collins’ strong advocacy, the Senate included a two-year ARCH extension in the FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill. Senator Collins is a senior member of the MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee. The bill was approved unanimously by the Committee and is expected to be approved shortly by the full Senate.
Senator Collins, along with Senator King, also introduced bipartisan legislation in March 2016 to allow the ARCH program to continue operating through 2021. Congressman Poliquin introduced a bill in October 2015 that would make the ARCH program permanent. The Congressman also introduced legislation in the House in April 2016 that is companion legislation to the Senators’ ARCH extension bill.