Guest opinion: House health care bill leaves veterans behind
I’m proud to have served my country — but my country, or more precisely its health-care system, has been falling short in recent years. The VA facilities have had well-known problems in recent years, and 1.75 million veterans who rely on Medicaid for their health care are facing an uncertain future. The Affordable Care Act clearly needs to be repealed; however, a simultaneous replacement guaranteeing fair coverage must be enacted, as well.
Given the Republicans have a golden opportunity to craft our very own health-care reform bill, Congress needs to remember that it is critical to ensure that those with health coverage currently are protected, especially those with pre-existing conditions. This is what President Trump promised, and Congress needs to deliver.
Unfortunately, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the American Health Care Act, the replacement bill that passed the House, does not live up to this promise. The CBO found that under the AHCA, 51 million people will be uninsured in 2026, 23 million more than presently. And many protections for those with pre-existing conditions will be taken away, as well.
One major reason the bill falls short in my view is it is very detrimental to the Medicaid that 41,000 vets in Colorado rely on — without offering any resources or other way to take care of them. The CBO reports that Medicaid will be cut by $834 billion — which would be devastating to those who count on Medicaid for care, including veterans — if we can’t maintain the expanded coverage.
Block grants and per-capita caps simply cannot be used to make cuts to an already-underfunded program in any bill that passes the Senate. Otherwise, the hospital payment reductions that were used to fund coverage expansion under the ACA must be restored; we must make sure hospitals have the resources needed to offset the increased number of uninsured for whom they will need to care.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans just unveiled their own bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. While the CBO will score this new bill in the coming days and weeks, what we do know is that the cuts to Medicaid are even deeper, and many of the worst provisions in the House bill are retained.
The House plan eliminates the rule mandating that Medicaid plans cover essential services; this includes mental health, substance use and behavioral health services, conditions that, sadly, many of my fellow veterans suffer from. In fact, a 2015 survey from the nonprofit Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America concluded that 58 percent of respondents reported having a mental health injury due to their service.
For veterans who suffer from mental health issues like PTSD, and are at much higher suicide risk than the general public, the AHCA could amount to a death sentence. The Senate bill offers little additional funding for opioid treatment even as it cuts more from Medicaid.
Both the House and Senate bills would leave hundreds of thousands of other Coloradans behind, especially the most vulnerable, like our children, the elderly, and low-income families.
The AHCA would permit the states to forgo certain insurance rules and consumer protections, especially those related to essential benefits and community rating. As a result, state waivers could allow premiums to be set according to individual risk for some consumers. Returning to that approach would mean millions more uninsured.
I find all of this deeply troubling. I cannot support legislation that leaves millions vulnerable, especially those who have served our country in uniform, and I can’t imagine many Republicans will either. I am glad to hear Sen. Gardner is scrutinizing the Senate bill very carefully, and I hope he is able to persuade his fellow Republicans to pass legislation that fulfills the President’s campaign promises.
We need to continue to urge lawmakers to return to the drawing board to find a solution that provides coverage to those who need it and ensures that the most vulnerable, including those who have bravely fought for our country, are not left behind.
Floyd Trujillo is a Republican, veteran, and head of Hispanics for Trump in Colorado.