Tom Bell: Help vets by expanding Medicaid

06/17/2014 12:00 AM

06/16/2014 7:24 PM

The troubles within the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system are disturbing to all Americans. And though the U.S. House and Senate are working on legislation that would authorize veterans to seek health care in non-VA facilities in certain circumstances, the failure of the VA to provide timely, effective medical services to our nation’s veterans is unconscionable.

Our veterans are the embodiment of sacrifice and the legacy of the enduring cost of our freedoms. It’s because of their outsize sacrifice that the news of long waiting times in many parts of the country to access excellent care at a veterans’ hospital or clinic is so troubling. But at least these veterans have some ability to access care. What is largely unknown is that many veterans and their families – including a significant number in Kansas – don’t have access to care at all.

Many individuals who did not receive care from the VA or are not eligible would have used the private system if they had health insurance. It makes perfect sense – no long waits, and care provided close to home when a VA facility is a long drive away.

But for many, a local access point is problematic. One in 10 of the nation’s nonelderly veterans has no health insurance and does not use VA services – that’s 1.3 million veterans. Nearly 950,000 of their family members also lack coverage. That’s because nearly half of uninsured veterans have incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level – $26,951 for a family of three. At this level, veterans would be eligible for coverage under Medicaid as states expand their programs. If all states expanded Medicaid, nearly half of the nation’s uninsured veterans would have access to affordable health coverage.

For states like Kansas that have rejected Medicaid expansion for the past two years, the situation is unfortunate. Kansas has 15,000 veterans and 10,000 family members without health insurance. An estimated 12,200 Kansas veterans and family members would be eligible for Medicaid coverage under expansion.

It’s one thing to wait in a long line. It’s another when you can’t get access to the line. Unfortunately, this is happening in Kansas.

VA and federal officials are working hard to reduce the wait times at VA facilities. That’s their job. It’s the job of elected state officials, including our governor, to help veterans and their family members gain access to that line. That could easily be done by expanding coverage and access to care for our veterans and for thousands of other hardworking individuals through Medicaid.

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