Health care for veterans is on the chopping block

Health care for veterans is on the chopping block
© US Marine Corps

On July 9, three federal judges sitting in a New Orleans courtroom heard a lawsuit seeking to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act. The case was brought by Texas and 17 other states, with the Trump administration lending its support. On the other side were 20 states led by a mix of Democrats and Republicans.  

A victory for Texas and its partners would end the ACA’s ban on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, a critically important safeguard for those of us with health problems. But other people are also at risk, including one group we cannot afford to fail — veterans in America. 

Veterans by the hundreds of thousands will lose health coverage if judges throw away the ACA. Such a decision would eliminate Medicaid expansion and tax credits for private insurance, on which many veterans rely. The RAND Corporation, a non-partisan research organization that works closely with the military, found that 690,000 veterans would become completely uninsured under ACA repeal. The number of veterans who would lose their health care if the ACA is overturned exceeds the size of the entire active duty U.S. Army and Marine Corps combined

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Far too many veterans still suffer the wounds of war. The federal courts should not repay their service by taking away the health care that many of them need to thrive or even survive. 

These men and women, to whom we are deeply indebted, were not top of mind for the Trump administration lawyers arguing to strike down the ACA.

In fact, at the New Orleans hearing, the attorneys made a bizarre proposal to the court: “End the ACA only in states that brought suit, letting the law continue everywhere else.” 

This supposed compromise makes no sense. Confining the suffering to 18 plaintiff states would give cold comfort to veterans who live in those states. They contain more than one in three American veterans whose health care is now under attack from their own government.     

The administration’s proposal to have the health law blink in and out of existence when people cross state lines conflicts with the nationwide scope of many health programs, as illustrated by Medicare. The ACA beefed up Medicare coverage for prescription drugs and ended deductibles and co-pays for preventive care. Reversing the law would raise those costs for millions of seniors. Medicare has no mechanism to jack up charges on drugs and preventive care for Texas elders while keeping them low in states that did not join Texas’s lawsuit. 

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It’s easy to see why, in 2017, a bipartisan Congressional majority rejected proposals to “repeal and replace” the ACA. But the administration is now asking the courts for something even more extreme: repealing the law without any replacement whatsoever.

Is it any wonder groups like AARP, the American Cancer, Heart, and Lung Associations, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the Small Business Majority Foundation all asked the court to reject this lawsuit?

In one surprising twist, lawyers who represented opposing sides in past major ACA challenges — people who might have trouble agreeing on where to go to lunch — came together to strongly oppose this new legal assault on the health law.  

Medical care is now on the chopping block for America’s veterans, who put their lives on the line to defend our nation. Federal judges should not callously dishonor their service by using this foolish and extreme lawsuit to throw away the ACA. 

Stan Dorn is the director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation at Families USA.