Many Americans are under the impression that all military veterans receive medical benefits by the Veteran’s Administration. Actually, this is a misconception. Retired, and disabled vets, and those injured in active duty or who have health-related issues due to their service, are eligible. But, it is not always automatic as most of us might assume, and often is provided on a case by case basis. Plus, the level of coverage provided varies widely, and even though some degree of care is often available, many veterans choose to go without insurance to avoid paying premiums. With so many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, having not been in the workforce for years in some cases, will these vets get coverage?
Returning vets may qualify for Medicaid, but not all. Some are employed but may be underemployed and not carrying insurance. These individuals may make a very low income but still be considered, according to federal guidelines, above the poverty line. Consequently, they will have to pay into one of the mandated insurance plans or risk tax penalties. Critics claim, for these presently “uncovered” individuals, it could be a financial strain. The question then becomes: how does the Affordable Care Act help returning veterans…or does it?
Proponents say that it will help veterans with no health coverage. A recent report by the Urban Institute brought this conversation to the forefront. Based on census data, 1 in 10 veterans under the age of sixty-five have no medical insurance and do not use VA health benefits. The Institute report claims that these younger veterans have served on recent tours of duty and are less likely to be married although more likely to be unemployed. Because Medicaid is so specifically allocated for low-income (poverty level) and especially low-income families and the disabled, these veterans often become an uninsured statistic. The Affordable Care act will, proponents claim, allow veterans access to affordable insurance even if they don’t qualify for VA benefits.
Opponents, of course, frame it differently.
The Affordable Care Act allows states at the local level to accept federal dollars for Medicaid to cover those below the predetermined poverty base line. Based on the federal ruling, states have the right to deny additional funding for Medicaid opting to only keep existing dollars. Consequently that could mean that funding for Veterans–who and how they qualify for either Medicaid or the mandated Affordable Care Act’s plans–will vary depending on the state in which the veteran resides.
It will be interesting to see if this “per state” ruling has any real impact on veterans or if the mandated insurance actually helps or burdens returning vets. The Urban Institute study claims the affordable care act will indeed cover an additional fifty percent of veterans who were formerly falling through the cracks. That said, it is estimated that the 1 in 10 veterans who goes uninsured often does so not for lack of access but because they want to avoid paying the premiums for their health insurance. Since VA premiums are generally low, will the low premiums under the Affordable Care Act be any lower?
Further criticism has opponents pointing to a possible drain on the healthcare system and claim there will be long waits and a lack of quality care with so many returning vets needing care for illness other than active duty injuries or military related health issues. Since many of these vets have been away for several tours, the obstacle, claim the critics, is to acclimate and find employment in a depressed economy. Critics insist that the flawed part of the Act is only further complicated when a vet is unemployed or underemployed. Now the individual is responsible for premiums, co-payments, deductibles and the uncovered portion of the medical bill. The result is a vet who is drowning in debt–say the critics.
Again, where the gavel falls on this issue, especially with the number of returning vets increasing dramatically, is yet to be determined.