As Republicans strive mightily — and perversely — for a health-care system that would increase the uninsured by 22 million people, they should ponder the impact on a particularly deserving group — veterans.
It’s not unexpected that heartless GOP plans would be hard on the vulnerable, but do they realize that includes many who continue to suffer from their service?
These are people largely supportive of Republicans, including President Trump, who had the insight to call the House plan “mean.”
Republicans honor veterans, but you can’t tell it by their current health-care proposals.
The GOP plans do not directly affect the Veterans Affairs Department’s extensive system of health services. About 7 million vets, however, get their care outside of VA services. After the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, kicked in, the number of vets without insurance dropped by almost 40 percent, according to Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and other committee members.
Republicans would reverse that trend. Tester and his Democratic colleagues said the Senate bill could:
- Result in nearly 1.75 million disabled and low-income veterans losing Medicaid coverage
- Impose a tax on 600,000 veterans, forcing them to pay up to five times more for health insurance
- Cause more than 5 million veterans difficulty in finding services at rural hospitals
- Generate increased mental health-care fees for the many veterans who suffer post-traumatic stress from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam
- Result in up to 7 million veterans losing tax credits to help pay for medical care
- Cause about 7 percent of veterans to lose access to care for opioid or other substance abuse problems.
The Republican committee chairman and the Trump administration had the chance to refute the data presented by the Democrats, but they did not.
“As the Secretary (David Shulkin) has said, until the legislative process runs its course, we are not going to speculate on details of a possible bill,” a VA statement said. “Once a bill is agreed on, we will be in a position to review potential impacts on VA.”
Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said: “We have been working in a bipartisan manner to improve veterans’ access to quality and timely care. We will continue doing so and hope that Democrats’ recent attempts to politicize veterans’ health care won’t hamper our efforts.”
Exit polls indicate 60 percent of those who served in the military supported Trump’s election, about the same portion of veterans who voted for Republican House candidates in 2014. Now this unpopularly elected president is working to drum up support for the very unpopular Republican proposals.
In five recent polls, the approval ratings for the Republican health-care plan ranged from a miserable 16 percent to a pitiful 30 percent, sometimes with a significant percentage undecided.
“This plan, written in secret, will devastate thousands of elderly, disabled and rural veterans who go outside of the VA for all or some of their health care,” Tester said. “This plan guts Medicaid, which provides lifesaving treatment, mental-health care and access to a health-care provider for thousands of folks who have bravely served this nation. I will be working hard to make sure that any health- care law honors our promises to our veterans, but this plan doesn’t even come close.”
He was joined in outrage by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Joe Manchin III (W. Va.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio).
“Our country makes a promise to take care of the men and women who serve, but Trumpcare would do just the opposite,” Murray said.
Added Blumenthal: “Every Member of Congress who plans to support this bill needs to imagine looking a veteran in the eye and telling them why their mental-health care for PTS (post-traumatic stress) has been halted, or why they can no longer afford treatment for traumatic brain injury sustained while serving their country.”
Major veterans service organizations are taking a cautious approach to the GOP health-care proposals, if they have anything to say at all. Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is one organization staying vigilant on the debate and what it means for those who carry the pain of war.
“DAV is carefully monitoring how changes to the Affordable Care Act could impact ill and injured veterans who served and sacrificed for our nation,’ said Executive Director Garry Augustine. “VA’s budget this year is already insufficient to meet all the requirements Congress has placed on the department to care for our nation’s ill and injured veterans. Any additional demand on the system may aggravate the current fiscal constraints and effect the delivery of care to millions of veterans who use and rely on VA.”
He concluded with this forceful warning: “We will not idly sit by while political posturing threatens to jeopardize the health of our nation’s heroes.”