Obama scraps plan to bill vet­er­ans for health care

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion dropped a pro­posal to re­quire some dis­abled vet­er­ans to pay for med­i­cal treat­ments through their pri­vate in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, heed­ing a cho­rus of out­rage from vet­er­ans groups and Capi­tol Hill law­mak­ers who said the idea was im­moral, un­con­scionable and un-Amer­i­can.

The White House de­cided to scrap the plan af­ter meet­ing with a con­tin­gent of vet­er­ans and mil­i­tary ad­vo­cacy groups on March 18 for the sec­ond time in a week.

“In con­sid­er­ing the third­party billing is­sue, the ad­min­is­tra­tion was seek­ing to max­i­mize the re­sources avail­able for vet­er­ans,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “How­ever, the pres­i­dent lis­tened to con­cerns raised by the [vet­er­ans groups] that this might, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, af­fect vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies’ abil­ity to ac­cess health care.”

The pro­posal, which the ad­min­is­tra­tion said was never a cer­tainty, called for gen­er­at­ing an es­ti­mated $540 mil­lion in sav­ings by tap­ping vet­er­ans’ pri­vate in­sur­ance for ser­vice-re­lated in­juries and ail­ments that for decades the gov­ern­ment has been ob­li­gated to pay.

Op­po­nents of the plan said they were con­cerned it would cause in­sur­ers to in­crease pre­mium rates to cover ser­vice-con­nected dis­abled vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. They also wor­ried that some em­ploy­ers, es­pe­cially small busi­nesses, would be re­luc­tant to hire vet­er­ans with serv- ice-con­nected dis­abil­i­ties due to the neg­a­tive im­pact their em­ploy­ment might have on ob­tain­ing and fi­nanc­ing com­pany health care ben­e­fits.

Af­ter a pub­lic out­cry over the pro­posal erupted that in­cluded Democrats and Repub­li­cans, the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided it was po­lit­i­cally un­ten­able to press for­ward on the mat­ter.

Vet­er­ans groups learned of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion at a meet­ing later in the day at the Capi­tol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

“Based on the re­spect that Pres­i­dent Obama has for our na­tion’s vet­er­ans and the prin­ci­pled con­cerns ex­pressed by vet­er­ans’ leaders, the pres­i­dent has made the de­ci­sion that the com­bat-wounded vet­er­ans should not be billed through their in­sur­ance poli­cies for com­bat-re­lated in­juries,” Mrs. Pelosi told the vet­er­ans group rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who greeted the news with a stand­ing ova­tion.

The vet­er­ans groups, which only a day ear­lier were livid with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, praised the pres­i­dent on March 18, say­ing they ap­pre­ci­ated his will­ing­ness to lis­ten and re­spond to their con­cerns.

“The pres­i­dent was very open and can­did when he met with vet­er­ans groups ear­lier this week, and we are pleased that he has heard our con­cerns and taken them to heart,” said Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor David W. Gor­man.

Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars’ Com­man­der Glen M. Gard­ner Jr. said he was im­pressed the pres­i­dent kept his word to lis­ten to the vet­er­ans’ com­mu­nity if it ob­jected to the pro­posal.

“Now we can move for­ward and work with his ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress to en­sure that the rest of the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs bud­get rec­om­men­da­tion is signed into law,” he said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s about­face also re­ceived bi­par­ti­san ap­plause on Capi­tol Hill.

“Pres­i­dent Obama made the right de­ci­sion not to move for­ward,” said Se­nate Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Demo­crat, who on March 17 vowed his panel would nei­ther draft nor ad­vance any leg­is­la­tion that would shift vet­er­ans’ health care costs to the pri­vate sec­tor and away from Vet­er­ans Af­fairs (VA).

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