An estimated 258,000 middle-income veterans with no service-connected health conditions will be allowed by late June to enroll in the VA health care system.
Enrollment means access to VA health care in exchange for modest co-payments, and also valuable discounts on prescription drugs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled its schedule for reopening VA health care to a quarter million new “Priority Group 8” veterans on Jan. 5 — ironically as President-elect Obama warned of trillion-dollar budget deficits and a new report of cost-cutting health care options by the Congressional Budget Office included ideas for tightening access to VA care.
In expanding enrollment, VA is acting at the direction of Congress. Last year, Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, fought successfully to add $350 million to the VA budget so income thresholds that bar Priority 8 veterans could be raised 10 percent to allow more middle income veterans access.
Phillip Matkovsky, deputy chief business officer for the Veterans Health Administration, said veterans with 2008 incomes “10 percent or less” above current Priority 8 thresholds will be able to enroll in VA health care when revised regulations take effect sometime before June 30.
The new income thresholds will range from $32,342 for an unmarried veteran and adding $2,222 for each dependent. Geographic income ceilings also will rise.
Veterans who applied for VA enrollment on or after Jan. 1 this year, and were rejected as Priority 8 veterans, need not reapply. Their applications, which already show their 2008 incomes, will be reconsidered and, if they fall under new higher thresholds, enrollment will be approved.
Applicants denied enrollment for having Priority 8 income before 2009 will have to reapply because VA needs to see income information for 2008.
More details on enrollment eligibility expansion are available online at:
or by calling 1-877-222 VETS (8387).
In an interview, Edwards dismissed the CBO cost-cutting ideas aimed at raising veterans’ out-of-pocket costs or bouncing 2 million vets from the VA health system because they suffer from no service-related conditions.
“Some of these don’t have the chance of a snowball in hell of being passed by Congress,” Edwards said. “CBO was simply doing its job to outline what the options are. But a number of those are dead before arrival.”
The CBO director who led work on health care options, Peter R. Orszag, is nominated to be Obama’s budget director. But Obama had pledged during his election campaign to “allow all veterans” back into the VA health system. He criticized the Bush administration’s decision in 2003 to bar new enrollments by Priority 8 vets, those judged to have adequate incomes and no service-related conditions. Obama said it was unfair that the VA was “picking and choosing” which veterans got VA care.
Edwards predicted Obama will stand by that pledge. But Edwards also has advised the president-elect to reopen Priority 8 enrollment only gradually. It’s a view shared by some major veterans’ service organizations.
“If we open the doors too quickly,” Edwards said, “we would flood the system, undermine quality of health care and lengthen waiting times for doctor appointments.”
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Miltary Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: email@example.com