Political Gamesmanship Hurts Veterans

5 Comments | Category: General

Between May 18 and July 4 Americans will celebrate Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day. The country’s veterans and those who care about them will be inundated with patriotic speeches on the floor of Congress and the state legislatures, at the local VFW halls, and along community parade routes by politicians who want these constituents to believe that they are fighting for them.

What remains to be seen is whether there will be any mention of America’s 1.3 million uninsured veterans alongside the political platitudes offered in the speeches and declarations of the political elite. What of the pols who claim to support veterans, yet appear to be working directly against their interests? A May 28 report from Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that America’s poorest, uninsured veterans are suffering as a result of the persistent political quarrel over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to Michael Ollove of Stateline, “More than a quarter-million veterans who lack health insurance will miss out on Medicaid coverage because they live in states that have declined to expand the program under the” ACA. Ollove writes that in January 2014, “uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,415 for an individual and $32,527 for a family of four) will become eligible for Medicaid benefits in states that expand their programs.” Among those eligible for benefits under the Medicaid expansion are roughly 535,000 veterans and almost 175,000 of their spouses.

Data from the Urban Institute shows that 21 states (including D.C.) representing 175,800 low-income, uninsured veterans have opted to expand coverage while 23 states representing 258,600 such veterans have declined the expansion under the health care law. The remaining states which contain over 276,000 low-income, uninsured veterans have not yet decided whether they will expand Medicaid benefits.

Much like the politicians running the states that have either opted in or out of the Medicaid expansion, public opinion remains divided almost a year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the core of the ACA. A CNN/ORC poll conducted between May 17-18, 2013 found that 43 percent of Americans—a plurality—favor the ACA, 35 percent are opposed because they believe it is too liberal, and 17 percent are opposed because they don’t think that the law is liberal enough.

My guess is that over 90 percent would agree to the extension if specifically asked about insuring the nation’s veterans. If given the facts in the proper context, the public would likely conclude that it is a crime that 1.3 million American veterans are uninsured and that over 500,000 may be denied access to Medicaid benefits simply because they live in states with leaders who have already opted out or are still considering opting out of the Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile back at Dysfunction Junction—also known as Congress—the U.S. House of Representatives cast its 37th vote to repeal the entire 2010 health care law in mid-May. These votes have been held despite the fact that the Supreme Court has already upheld the law, the Senate will never concur with a repeal bill, and such a bill would draw a guaranteed White House veto. Shockingly, the respected Congressional Research Service found that the time, effort, research, writing, and other legislative preparation for these 37 votes has cost the already-beleaguered American taxpayer a whopping $53.8 million dollars!

Just to be clear, the House majority has incurred tens of billions in costs and voted almost 40 times to approve legislation that would effectively strip away the health benefits of uninsured, low-income veterans in states with governors like Chris Christie in New Jersey and Pat Quinn in Illinois who have allowed for the expansion of Medicaid benefits within their borders. It would also, according to Talking Points Memo, “increase budget deficits by $109 billion over the next decade.” Apparently this is only fiscally prudent or responsible in Tea Party folklore.

Thanks to the wasteful efforts by the House majority, taxpayers have blown through over $50 million that could have been used to repair our crumbling national infrastructure, wasted an extravagant amount of time on 37 ineffective votes, and are responsible for entering countless chest-thumping speeches into the venerable Congressional Record that serve no purpose other than to fling bloody chunks of red rhetorical meat.

No matter how one feels about the ACA, the public good is not being served by a House of Representatives that wastes precious time and money on phony repeal votes or by governors like Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett and Texas’ Rick Perry who have said “no” to Medicaid expansion. I had major concerns about the ACA legislation as it was enacted and I still believe that the law is flawed. However, reality must prevail over fantasy. The ACA is the law of the land. It is not going away.

In this perennial season in which politicians declare their support for veterans, it is critical to ask if the politicians working the crowd at the Independence Day Parade or giving the “protect our veterans” stump speeches at the local VFW ceremony are trying to bring insurance and medical coverage to the veterans who need it most, or whether they are part of the ideological, political charade.

A Happy Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day to all!

Category: General

    5 Comments so far

  1. Roy Nickerson says:

    Thank you Nathan. This was very educational for this vet and veterans’s advocate.

  2. Joe says:

    Everyone is supportive of veterans receiving health benefits and care because of the sacrifices they made for our country. But using this support as political leverage to expand Medicaid and AHA is a perfect example of political gamesmanship. If the intention is to fix veterans’ benefits then the VA should be overhauled and structured to serve those who gave so much serving our country. Veterans should not be used as political pawns to impose a deeply flawed massive government entitlement onto States at great costs. Implying that anyone who doesn’t support the Medicaid expansion also doesn’t want uninsured veterans to have heath care is ludicrous. Fix the real problem veterans have been complaining about for decades, fix the VA.

  3. Tony West says:

    I’m all for fixing the VA. But we should bear in mind it wasn’t designed to cover all lifetime social-insurance needs for all ex-military in the beginning. Expanding the program in this way will cost big bucks all by itself.

    VA health-benefit costs are driven in part by the same systemic problems with the USA’s broken health-care industry that are pushing up Medicare, Medicaid & private insurance costs alike. So any attempt to “treat veterans fairly” will soon face the same challenges we ar4e now facing trying to treat non-veterans fairly.

    It is important to note that as a health-care provider, the VA system is the most-massive single-payer gov’t-run cradle-to-grave health system in America. So any attempt to raise it all by itself while denying it to most taxpayers raises a huge question: if “socialist medicine” is so good for vets that we need to beef it up, why is is supposed to be so bad for all the rest of us – who are paying the VA’s bills, after all?

  4. Joe says:

    @Tony Following your logic if the GI bill is a good benefit for vets why don’t we expand it as an entitlement to everyone? Vets are granted additional benefits because of their service in defense of the country. To give these benefits reserved for vets to everyone cheapens their sacrifice.

  5. Bob says:

    Opponents of the ACA will never concede that any facet of the bill is effective, just or helpful to Americans whether they be poor, needful or veterans. They oppose anything and everything that Obama or his administration proposes. Talk about partisan shills! Thank the Lord that we have veterans who are willing to serve. So many chicken hawks and so little personal courage in the Congress and State houses!

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