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Ensuring military veterans are insured

Health care, insurance for veterans need to be priorities

It’s shameful – and surprising – to learn that one in 10 U.S. veterans under age 65 have no medical insurance and do not use the Veterans Affairs health system. North Carolina has 54,000 uninsured veterans.

It’s further eye-opening – even to some physicians – to discover that some veterans don’t qualify for VA health care.

It’s true, as recent surveys of veterans have documented. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

VA officials recently acknowledged that they haven’t done a good enough job of making veterans who do qualify for services aware of their benefits. So starting last week, all departing service members must attend detailed benefits sessions. Previously, participation in such sessions varied by service and was voluntary.

Additionally, some lawmakers are pushing legislation that will automatically enroll in the VA system service members returning from combat operations. They are eligible for free care for five years but after that must qualify based on the disability- or income-based standards.

Those are good moves. They should have been pushed or implemented sooner.

But there’s something else that will help too – the Affordable Care Act known to most as Obamacare.

According to the Urban Institute, uninsured vets typically are younger, have served more recently, are less likely to be married and are more likely to be unemployed. Vets who are generally healthy but low-income and single with no dependents generally slip through Medicaid’s existing safety net, which catches low-income families with children, people with disabilities, uninsured women with breast or cervical cancer, and, for a few months after their arrival, refugees. The Affordable Care Acts calls on states to take new federal funding for Medicaid and expand use it to cover those making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s now about $11,000 for a single person with no dependents.

The Urban Institute estimated the act’s changes to Medicaid would provide insurance to nearly 50 percent of America’s uninsured veterans. The law also provides subsidies for Americans who still earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but meet income guidelines and don’t have access to affordable coverage at work.

The Urban Institute estimates another 40 percent of uninsured veterans could qualify for subsidized policies sold through states’ online health insurance exchanges. Unfortunately, some states are opting out of the Medicaid expansion and don’t want to participate in the health care exchanges. Their politically-motivated stubbornness could hurt many veterans.

That’s wrong. Outgoing N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue said this week that North Carolina will share responsibility for setting up the health care exchange with the federal government. Gov.-elect Pat McCrory said her decision keeps the state’s health care delivery options flexible.

Making sure U.S. veterans get the health care they need and deserve should be a priority for all policymakers. Vets should not be left to fend for themselves without insurance to cover their health needs. For all the sacrifices they’ve made, we owe them better than that.

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