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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Columns

Healthcare vouchers unfair to veterans


Veteran’s Day is a day to honor and respect our veterans — not to threaten their access to healthcare. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Republican primary candidate Mitt Romney did on Veteran’s Day. Romney celebrated Veteran’s Day at a South Carolina campaign event sharing barbecue and policy ideas with a round table of local veterans. He began by reiterating his support for our current wars, promising he would not look to the military as a place to balance our budget.

Yet later during the same event, he suggested doing just that, musing about the idea of a voucher system for veteran’s healthcare. He said such a system would be like the voucher system Florida has for its public education system. Comparing educational vouchers to healthcare vouchers is not only an apples-to-oranges comparison, but vouchers in Florida have failed to produce any statistically significant improvement in student turnout. Vouchers do not work in schools; they will not work in healthcare.

Auston Thompson, a fiscally conservative, former marine at the event told Talking Points Memo that he felt vouchers would be inadequate to cover the costs of individual insurance.

“Eventually it would become too much of a nuisance,” Thompson said. “Private healthcare is already so expensive; you’d need some kind of healthcare reform to make it work.”

Romney has jumped on the Medicare- voucher bandwagon in the past as well, though a Bloomberg study found that the plan Romney has supported (Paul Ryan’s health budget), would barely dent health spending. Not only would the plan fail to produce the advertised savings, vouchers are consistently inadequate in practice. That is, the vouchers are for less money than the average cost of healthcare premiums, not to mention out-of-pocket costs like co-payments and deductibles. Inadequate vouchers means that veterans who do not make enough money to cover the difference will go without healthcare. Some veterans with injuries and medical problems from their time in active duty will be unable to find insurance on the individual market, either due to cost, pre-existing exclusions, or riders that allow the insurance company to exempt a certain illness or body part from coverage.

For instance, a veteran may be able to afford individual insurance, but only with a rider that excuses the insurance company from paying for care related to an amputation. Even a common medical problem such as chronic high blood pressure can be enough to make an individual insurance premium hopelessly out of reach for many Americans. One can only imagine the premiums for an injured serviceman that will need chronic care.

The VA is not perfect — no large healthcare organization is without problems — but the solution is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Reform has already begun in earnest in the VA system. Phillip Longman, author of “The Best Care Anywhere”, cites “A New England Journal of Medicine” study that compares VA facilities on 11 measures of quality against Medicare. They found that “on all 11 measures, the quality of care in veterans facilities proved to be significantly better.” Referrals and closed networks within the US Family Health Plan and Tricare can be frustrating, but out-of-network referrals are far more simple to obtain with those plans than even with commercial HMOs.

If men and women who served our country are hurt in the line of duty, it is our responsibility as a nation to care for them. Privatizing our veteran’s healthcare is unpatriotic, inefficient and would be ineffective at reducing costs. Leaving our veterans at the mercy of the notorious individual insurance system with nothing but a voucher for protection is an unacceptable way to treat our veterans .

Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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