FORUM: Honor our veterans by expanding Medicaid

FORUM: Honor our veterans by expanding Medicaid
November 12
00:00 2015

In above photo: Image of the United States American flag, stethoscope, and tags. (Photo by NC Policy Watch)

Ciara Zachary, Guest Columnist

North Carolina ranks eighth for veteran population as there are nearly 800,000 veterans living in the Tar Heel state. The Veterans Administration reports that in 2014 there were four VA Hospitals, six Vet Centers, and 16 community-based outpatient clinics throughout the state.

Given the veteran population, it is easy to see why the VA secretary, Robert McDonald, has reported much difficulty in meeting demands for veteran health care with limited resources and facilities.

In North Carolina, only 321,459 veterans are enrolled in the VA Health Care System and only 214,215 patients were reported as treated in North Carolina in 2014.

Further, 316,000 veterans are age 65 years and over, and thus qualify for Medicare, which makes it easier to access health care outside of the VA Health Care System. Unfortunately, there are too many veterans that have difficulty accessing care, and with statistics showing that one out of every 10 veterans under age 65 years do not use VA health care and do not have health insurance shows that the United States has much room to improve how we care for those who have served this country. Fortunately, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a pathway did open to make health care to veterans more affordable and accessible. The pathway is Medicaid expansion.

Research has shown that four out of every 10 uninsured veterans fall into the Medicaid coverage gap. This means that many veterans and their spouses make too much money to qualify for Medicaid (note: there are additional criteria for Medicaid eligibility) and too little to qualify for financial help or subsidies to enroll in the ACA through the Marketplace.

A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that used data from the 2008-2010 American Community Survey shows that there are approximately 23,000 veterans in North Carolina that would benefit from Medicaid expansion. Approximately, 8,000 spouses of veterans would also be able to access affordable health care if North Carolina expands Medicaid.

So as we honor those who have fought and served our country, let’s not forget that North Carolina has an opportunity to protect our veterans and their families’ health by closing the coverage gap.

As Medicaid reform moves forward, our policymakers can include Medicaid expansion so that veterans’ mental and physical health is protected.

Ciara Zachary is a policy analyst the N.C. Justice Center’s Health Access Coalition. She is a public health researcher with experience in evaluating public health service programs, health advocacy, policy analysis and health communication.

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