Open Season: VA Healthcare

As lawmakers tussle with a trillion dollar health care spending bill, the VA has made some healthcare changes of its own.

Interesting the moves would coincide.

Effective June 15, the VA has put out the welcome sign for an estimated 266,000 veterans of moderate income to obtain care at VA medical facilities. Service-connected conditions are unnecessary: if you are a vet and meet the means criteria, you’re in.

The VA has long permitted non-service connected lower-income vets into the VA medical system. (In fact, in some locations, one sometimes gets the feeling this group far exceeds the service-connected, disabled crowd.)

As chronicled in the May 15 Federal Register, the VA published its intent to broaden eligibility on Jan. 21, 2009. (Also interesting is how close that date was to the change in administration.) While it seems the VA would see $121 million in copayments, it projects the cost of this move to be near $3 billion over the next five years.

Since a large number of higher-income vets were cut from the system in 2003 under a cost-cutting measure, this latest move relaxes the financial requirements (but only by 10 percent). Vets still must take a means test. It is online and might remind one more of a tax form than a veteran benefit. The income rate sheet itself is not so encouraging. For example, a vet with no dependents is ineligible if income and assets exceed $80,000.

According to one VA official, the program has been funded to increase VA staffing as needed. He noted the VA would monitor capacity and wrote the VA expects an increase of 500,000 vets in the next four years.

And what does VA Secretary Eric Shinseki have to say on this? No idea. He’s still not talking in his self-made media moratorium.

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