States Can Give Back to Veterans by Expanding Medicaid
On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to the servicemen and women who have sacrificed for our nation. But lawmakers in the 20 states that have refused to expand Medicaid are missing an important opportunity to give back to veterans, nearly 1 in 10 of whom lack health insurance. By expanding Medicaid, these states can help uninsured veterans and their families.
Medicaid expansion can provide health insurance to veterans not eligible for VA health care
Our country has made a commitment to care for our veterans by providing them with comprehensive health coverage through the Veterans Health Administration (VA). What many people don’t know is that not all veterans are eligible to receive health insurance through the VA. And even those who are eligible may not always be able to access care.
The reasons veterans may not be eligible for health coverage through the VA or may not be able to reliably obtain VA health care vary. To receive care through the VA, veterans must meet certain criteria in terms of time served, disability, and income [See text box below].
Many men and women who are eligible for some VA coverage are unaware they can receive care through the VA. Thousands more live outside the treatment area of a VA hospital, leaving them and their families without reliable access to care.
More than 300,000 veterans who could benefit and their spouses live in states that have not expanded Medicaid
In states that expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, many uninsured veterans and their families who aren’t able to get care through the VA may qualify for expanded Medicaid. This means they make less than $21,980 per year (equal to 138 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of two).
But 342,000 uninsured veterans and their spouses who make less than $21, 980 per year live in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid to cover more residents. Those veterans and their spouses don’t have an option for affordable health care. For example, these estimates show how many veterans and their spouses could benefit from expansion in three states:
- Florida: 55,000 veterans and their spouses
- North Carolina: 32,000 veterans and their spouses
- Texas: 67,000 veterans and their spouses
Comprehensive health care services are especially important for veterans. Many veterans suffer from unique, and sometimes serious or complicated, health issues as a result of their time serving our county. These health issues include musculoskeletal conditions, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Low-income veterans—those who would be most helped by expanding Medicaid coverage—can be sicker, are more likely to be homeless, and are more likely to have post-traumatic stress, substance use, and mental health disorders than higher-income veterans. For these veterans, the access to health care they could gain through Medicaid not only improves their overall health, it is integral to helping them achieve financial stability upon return to civilian life.
Medicaid expansion could help high-need patients currently using VA services
In addition to offering health care to uninsured vets, Medicaid can expand the services available to some of the neediest veterans in the nation. A recent study found that three-quarters of homeless veterans using VA services would be eligible for Medicaid if their state expanded. The study found eligible veterans could benefit from increased access to needed substance use and mental health services. By expanding Medicaid, states can reach both veterans who are unable to access the VA, and high-need users currently in the VA system.
To benefit uninsured veterans, lawmakers should expand Medicaid
All veterans should have access to quality, affordable health care. None should fall through the cracks. One of the best ways states can make sure that’s true for their resident veterans is to expand Medicaid.
Unfortunately, 20 states are leaving their lowest-income veterans behind. If you live in one of those states, take the opportunity to tell your governor and state legislators how many uninsured veterans could benefit from expansion. Urge them to do something for the men and women in the state who have served our country and extend health coverage through Medicaid.