March 17, 2009 in City

Veterans health care may go private

David Goldstein McClatchy
 

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is considering making veterans use private insurance to pay for treatment of combat and service-related injuries.

The plan would be an about-face on what veterans believe is a long-standing pledge to pay for health care costs that result from their military service.

But in a White House meeting Monday, veterans groups apparently failed to persuade President Barack Obama to take the plan off the table.

“Veterans of all generations agree that this proposal is bad for the country and bad for veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“If the president and the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) want to cut costs, they can start at AIG, not the VA,” Rieckhoff said.

Under current policy, veterans are responsible for health care costs that are unrelated to their military service. Exceptions in some cases can be made for veterans without private insurance or who are 100 percent disabled.

The president spoke Monday at the Department of Veterans Affairs to commemorate its 20th anniversary and said he hopes to increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years. But he said nothing about the plan to bill private insurers for service-related medical care.

Few details about the plan have been available and a VA spokesman did not provide additional information.

But the reaction on Capitol Hill to the idea has been swift and harsh.

“Dead on arrival” is how Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington described the idea. “… when our troops are injured while serving our country, we should take care of those injuries completely,” Murray, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told a hearing last week.

“I don’t think we should nickel and dime them for their care.”

In separate comments, Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said the nation “owes a debt to the veterans who fought and paid for our freedom.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said at the hearing where Murray spoke that the plan was “a consideration.” He also acknowledged that the VA’s proposed budget for next year included it as a way to increase revenue.

But Shinseki told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that “a final decision hasn’t been made yet.”

Veterans claim that the costs of treating expensive war injuries could raise their insurance costs, as well as those for their employers. Some worried that it also could make it more difficult for disabled veterans to find work.

“There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran’s personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide,” the heads of several veterans groups said in their letter to Obama.


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