Lawmakers on Tuesday "explicitly ruled out" the possibility of enacting President Obama's proposal to have private insurers cover the costs of combat-related injuries for veterans, the Washington Post reports (Scott Tyson, Washington Post, 3/18). Under the policy, which is included in Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget proposal, the Department of Veterans Affairs would bill health insurers for treatment of injuries and conditions sustained as a result of veterans' military service. Currently, VA covers those costs and bills health insurers only for treatment for conditions unrelated to veterans' military service (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 3/10). VA estimates the plan could save the agency $530 million annually in health care costs (Washington Post, 3/18).

The plan has received "little if any support on Capitol Hill," the Washington Times reports. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chair Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said his panel would not develop or move legislation that would shift the cost of veterans' health care away from VA to the private sector. Akaka said, "VA's sacred duty is to care for veterans injured in honorable service to our nation, and the department should not turn to wounded warriors' private insurance to pay for combat injures" (Lengell, Washington Times, 3/18). House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chair Bob Filner (D-Calif.) said that the proposal "to charge 'third-party' insurance companies for service-connected medical treatment will not be taken up. ... (The) budget cannot be balanced on the backs (or legs, or kidneys or hearts) of our nation's combat-wounded heroes" (Johnson, CQ Today, 3/17). Several other lawmakers have said the plan would be "dead on arrival" (Goldstein, Kansas City Star, 3/18).

Veterans groups have expressed concerns that the plan would cause insurers to increase premiums, and that veterans with severe injuries could reach their maximum coverage limits, leaving themselves and their families without any coverage benefits, the Times reports (Washington Times, 3/18). They also said that civilian employers could be disinclined to hire veterans because of concerns that they would drive up insurance rates. American Legion Commander David Rehbein said that during meetings with the groups on Tuesday, "It became apparent ... that the president intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan." He added that Obama "refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it." More discussions between veterans groups and the administration will be held Thursday (CQ Today, 3/17).

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has not made its "final ... decision on third-party billing as it relates to service-related injuries." He noted that Obama is seeking to increase VA discretionary spending by 11% as part of his budget. According to Gibbs, "This president takes very seriously the needs of our wounded warriors that have given so much to protect our freedom on battlefields throughout the world" (Washington Post, 3/18).

Opinion Pieces
Paul Rieckhoff, New York Post: Obama's plan "forsakes a sacred promise to our veterans -- the promise that we will care for them in return for their service," Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, writes in a New York Post opinion piece. He states that the Obama administration "may see this third-party-billing idea as a big cost-saver," but "while we are all concerned about the economy, we cannot shift the burden to our veterans." Rieckhoff concludes, "This country founded the VA to care for those who served and sacrificed, and we must ensure that it continues to fulfill that duty. The nation can't go back on its commitment to its warriors and their families" (Rieckhoff, New York Post, 3/18).

David Rehbein, Wall Street Journal: Obama's attempt to "unfairly generate $540 million on the backs of veterans" would "have an adverse impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families," Rehbein writes in a Journal opinion piece. He adds, "This plan is as unfair as it is unnecessary," as "it is the president and Congress who send troops in harm's way, not the CEO of BlueCross BlueShield." The American Legion has "long advocated for Medicare to reimburse the VA for its treatment of Medicare-eligible veterans," according to Rehbein. He continues, "Veterans pay into the Medicare system, yet they are unable to use Medicare benefits in the VA health system, which was created specifically for them," adding, "We also believe that direct billing between two federal agencies will reduce the opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse that tend to occur when for-profit corporations enter the mix" (Rehbein, Wall Street Journal, 3/18). Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

© 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

Tag Cloud