July 17, 2017

Springfield Republican Op-Ed: GOP health plan would hit veterans hard

Last week, I returned from Afghanistan. I learned a lot from the dedicated men and women from Massachusetts and around the country stationed there. And I thought about our commitments to those who serve and about just how much we owe our service members, veterans, and their families - and that includes protecting their health care.

This week, I'm back in Washington, just as President Trump and Senate Republicans are pressing forward with their health care repeal bill, a plan to strip away coverage from 22 million people and drive up costs for millions more. In Massachusetts alone, the uninsured rate - while currently the lowest in the country - could rise by 45 percent over the next five years.

The impact of the Republican plan for health care repeal would be felt all across the nation, but veterans would be hit especially hard. When they think of health care for veterans, most people think of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but many veterans don't qualify for VA benefits, while others don't have access to a nearby VA hospital or health care provider. As a result, the VA currently provides care for fewer than half of all veterans. That means the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid are equally critical when it comes to making sure all veterans can get the care they need.

The ACA isn't perfect, but it has reduced the uninsured rate for non-elderly veterans by 40 percent, and veterans' spouses and kids gained coverage, too. For example, thanks in part to the ACA's Medicaid expansion, almost two million veterans nationwide, including more than 50,000 veterans in Massachusetts, now receive health care through Medicaid. But Republicans propose to eliminate that coverage.

The Republicans also propose caps on Medicaid funding that would force states to enact deep cuts in a program that serves veterans in every state. If the Republican bill becomes law, more than 450,000 veterans across the country could lose their Medicaid coverage.

Veterans who buy individual insurance would also be hit. If the Republicans pass their health bill, thousands more veterans and their families in the Commonwealth insured through the individual markets could lose coverage, see their costs skyrocket, or lose access to important benefits, like maternity care or prescription drug coverage.

Even those who manage to hang on to health care coverage would face cuts under the Republican plan. The Republicans' proposed cuts to Medicaid would impact basic health care services, including behavioral health services many veterans use. One in ten soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking care at the VA struggle with addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Veterans may also exhibit service-connected physical health problems, including chronic pain and traumatic brain injury. And according to multiple studies, they are more likely than civilians to struggle with mental illness. Contrary to President Trump's repeated promises, the Senate Republican bill would make it harder for veterans to get health care "wherever and whenever they need it."

Ripping away health care from America's veterans and their families is wrong. It is disrespectful, and it dishonors the sacrifices they have made for this country. Our veterans deserve better.

Read the op-ed on the Mass Live website here.

By:  Senator Elizabeth Warren
Source: Springfield Republican