Ascension, the nation's largest not-for-profit hospital system, has provided care to 1,600 military veterans under the new Veterans Choice healthcare program since launching an advertising blitz in 21 of its major markets in March.
Ascension's media campaign around veterans care is its largest integrated campaign ever, said Nick Ragone, chief marketing and communications officer at St. Louis-based Ascension.
Veterans Choice is a $10 billion, three-year program funded by Congress to improve access to healthcare and reduce wait times for veterans who typically rely on the Veterans Affairs Department healthcare system for services.
It allows veterans who face wait times in excess of 30 days at VA facilities or have to travel more than 40 miles to get treatment at participating providers in the private sector. The VA has been under fire for years for making veterans sometimes wait months for appointments or fumbling appointments altogether.
Ascension has gone all-in on participating because it aligns with Ascension's stated mission of assisting vulnerable populations, Ragone said. “We don't think there is a more vulnerable population,” he said.
In a recent radio spot in the Nashville market, Ascension CEO Tony Tersigni narrated the system's Veterans Choice ad.
Ragone declined to detail the amount of its advertising campaign. But it is running across channels on television, radio, print, web and social media in 21 of its 23 markets where it has major hospitals, he said.
In Nashville, Ascension manages several hospitals and affiliated physician offices around its flagship St. Thomas Hospital. Ascension has 137 hospitals and about 2,000 physician locations in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
Ragone said the campaign will run on various media channels for the foreseeable future.
Behavioral care is a big part of what Ascension has been providing to veterans under the program, he said.
One concern raised by a handful of veterans groups about the program is that veterans could face high out-of-pocket costs if they get care without getting VA authorization through a third-party administrator such as TriWest Healthcare Alliance or Health Net.
Ascension has veterans staffing a call center in Nashville that handles Veterans Choice inquiries, Ragone said. They are trained to patch those veterans into the VA to assure those veterans are eligible for participating provider.
In the “off-chance” a veteran does get care at an Ascension facility without pre-authorization, the individual will not be billed for the care, Ragone said. Ascension receives standard Medicare rates for providing service.