WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Thursday quietly passed a fix regarding veterans status under the proposed new health care bill that Republican supporters hope will silence one part of the opposition to the measure.
The legislation passed by voice vote without opposition. The bill states that veterans who are eligible for medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs but not using those services are eligible for health insurance tax credits under the American Health Care Act.
Republicans billed the measure as nothing more than bookkeeping work.
"I'm confident that the IRS would interpret the relevant language of the (ACHA) in the same manner as it did similar language in the Affordable Care Act under the Obama administration," said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Nevertheless, I'm glad that the passage of (this) act today will once and for all put an end to posturing over this issue and codify Congress' expectation (for veterans)."
But Democrats labeled the move as an overdue correction of one of the health care overhaul's multiple mistakes.
In March, House leaders dropped language specifically stating that veterans not using VA services would be receive the tax credits, because it potentially violated Senate legislative rules. The Republicans insisted the move was of no consequence, because the exception is already spelled out in existing Internal Revenue Service rules.
But Democrats said it potentially cheated 7 million veterans out of the tax credit, because of questions surrounding the applicability of the past IRS rules.
"This bill is evidence that the loophole is an issue," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. "While I am glad we are making this fix, I am concerned that the rushed process for considering the ACHA led to the House passing disruptive health care legislation without fully understanding its impact on millions of Americans, especially our nation's veterans."
The Senate is unlikely to take up the legislation unless it reaches a compromise on the larger health care overhaul plan, since it’s only applicable if that measure passes.
Takano said in a statement that while the veterans tax credit issue is now fixed, "there are far more severe problems for veterans under the AHCA that remain unresolved." They include cuts to Medicaid, revised requirements for mandated health benefit rules, and eliminating some protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.