The big question that many veterans are wondering as Obamacare looms closer is the question, “Am I definitely considered covered under my VA benefits plan?” The short answer: “Yes”. But there’s a lot more to that question than a simple yes or no, and a lot more information that can help veterans decide what actions they want to take when 2014 rolls around.
The first gray area is how VA benefits will fit in the mix with Medicaid, Obamacare, and privately-provided health insurance. Firstly, it is important to note that veterans who have served in the armed forces who do not qualify to be within the 8 priority groups will not be considered covered under the Affordable Care Act and will need to seek coverage. Those who fall in priority group 8 need to ensure that their income does not exceed the income amount set by the VA. Those thresholds are published by the VA yearly on a national and geographical level.
Simply being eligible for VA benefits does not exempt one from having to seek health insurance. In order to be exempt, a veteran must be actively enrolled in the VA benefit program. Being exempt through the VA program can be very beneficial, as the penalty for not being insured in 2014 will be either $285 per family or 1% of annual income, whichever is greater. As of 2016, that penalty will increase exponentially to a maximum of either $2,085 per family or 2.5% of annual income, whichever is greater. To some veterans who do not qualify for VA benefits, facing either that penalty or the cost of monthly insurance premiums can be daunting. The congressional budget office is estimating that approximately 1 out of every 100 Americans will have to pay the penalty.
But one factor that may affect many veteran’s decision is that those who are eligible (not necessarily enrolled) for VA benefits will not receive any tax credit to purchase additional insurance to cover the needs of their families, and will not be eligible for subsidized health insurance exchange, though the family members of covered veterans could separate themselves from the VA and seek other insurance through the health exchanges. The important distinction being those who are eligible (not just those who are enrolled). This could in many ways negatively impact veterans, as many veterans opt to purchase additional or different health insurance than is provided by the VA. Many others find the VA benefits to be not a good fit for them or their families.
The veterans that will find this arrangement the most difficult to navigate may be the Reserve/Guard veterans, whose VA benefits packages are not nearly as comprehensive as the full-time military. They will need to either use the health insurance provided by their full-time employer, or select a private health insurance plan. In regards to this, there is still a gray area that has yet to be cleared up. We know that the large employer mandate is only applicable when the employee has not been offered insurance, and the employee is eligible for subsidies, which, on the face of it, would exclude veterans, however, it is unclear whether there is safeguards in place to ensure fairness to veterans. A hiring manager at a large company who wished to remain anonymous stated that his understanding is that veteran employees cannot be excluded on the basis that they are not eligible for subsidies. A final answer remains to be heard.
But probably the largest impact Obamacare will have on veterans is that it will, in the end, most likely cause either the quality of veteran health care to go down, or the price to go up. Insurance premiums have gone up for many people already, and will likely continue to do so. These increases are obviously not a part of Obamacare, but are the natural reaction of insurance companies who see themselves far less likely to see high profits once the restrictions and regulations kick in in 2014.
The debate about whether the price increases are Obamacare’s “fault” are ongoing, but as working citizens of the nation, the take-home is that prices are increasing, and more and more people are likely to need to depend on Medicaid or the Obamacare insurance exchanges to get coverage. Administrators have already been caught off guard by the expense of covering the “uninsurables” (individuals with pre-existing conditions). The 5 billion federal dollars set aside to support those people is already running out. Each and every veteran will need to think carefully to make the best choice for themselves and their family.