Honoring Veterans with the Health Coverage They Need

By Cate Bonacini

This past weekend, people gathered from coast to coast to remember our nation’s veterans and how they served our country. One way to honor their service will be to make sure they and their families have affordable health care coverage.

In the coming years, a number of veterans and their family members will be among the millions who will become eligible for health coverage through exchanges and expanded Medicaid coverage. According to a new report prepared by the Urban Institute and released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in 10 (or 1.3 million) of the nation’s 12.5 million nonelderly veterans are uninsured and do not use VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) services, and 883,000 use only VA care. Approximately 950,000 of veterans’ nonelderly family members also lack coverage. This is the first report to look at how many veterans are uninsured and how many might be eligible for expanded coverage in 2014.

Although the VA offers health care to many veterans, not all veterans are eligible for it. Moreover, many do not live near a VA facility, or they cannot afford the cost-sharing requirements. The VA also encourages veterans to get outside insurance, and it states that “VA health care is NOT considered a health insurance plan.” For lower-income veterans without job-based coverage, this can be a challenge. Accordingly, the report cites a recent survey in which over half of veterans and their families reported unmet medical needs, and many veterans said they have chosen to delay care due to cost. The new coverage coming through exchanges and expanded Medicaid might help fill in the gaps.

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • Currently, half of all uninsured veterans (about 632,000 people) and half of people who only receive coverage through the VA (449,000) have incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (an annual income of about $26,345 for a family of three). These people will be eligible for Medicaid coverage beginning in 2014.
  • An additional 519,000 uninsured veterans and 327,000 who only receive coverage through the VA have incomes between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (between $26,245 and $76,170), which means they will be eligible for premium tax credits to purchase coverage through the exchanges.

Veterans and their families stand to gain a great deal from the new health coverage options beginning in 2014. But they will only benefit if they know about these new options and how to enroll in them.  Some outreach projects in the past have targeted military and veterans’ families for children’s coverage. Now, it is time to start thinking creatively about how to build upon these efforts to ensure that all veterans and their families are able to get and keep the health coverage they need. It’s one important way to thank them for their service. 

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