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Lawmakers wonder if VA underestimates impact of health care reform

Apr. 23, 2013 - 05:27PM   |  
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A House committee is concerned that the Veterans Affairs Department may be underestimating the cost and burden of national health care reform for veterans’ hospitals and clinics.

Beginning next year, the Affordable Care Act penalizes people who do not have health insurance — part of a move intended to control overall health insurance costs by expanding the number of people with insurance. VA could end up with some of those people because its health plan meets the new law’s definition of “minimum essential coverage.”

It is unclear how many veterans might turn to VA, but the 2014 budget includes $85 million to cover increased medical care costs, plus $3.4 million to cover administrative costs because VA would have to provide a written statement to each enrolled veteran about their coverage.

On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will question VA health care officials about those estimates, which could be too low.

In the 2014 budget, VA estimates it will treat 6.5 million veterans, a modest 1.3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

At an April 11 hearing, Carl Blake of Paralyzed Veterans of America raised questions about the Affordable Care Act’s impact on veterans care. VA has told veterans groups it expects the number of people leaving and the number enrolling in VA to be about the same, with little overall change. There is no additional funding in 2015, Blake said, making him “curious to know what the basis for that is exactly."

Kenneth Kizer, director of the Institute for Population Health Improvement at University of California Davis Health System, estimates 1.8 million uninsured veterans will be looking for coverage when the Affordable Care Act requirement kicks in next year.

In a 2012 report, Kizer, a former VA health official, said most veterans have private-sector health insurance, and those who are 65 or older are covered by Medicare and possibly other insurance. But the uninsured will be looking for coverage, he said.

A big influx of new patients would pose a burden for some VA hospitals, where veterans already face lengthy waits for medical appointments, Kizer warned.

Patricia Kime contributed to this story.

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