Bruce Coulter: White House caves on vets’ insurance grab
President Barack Obama smartly reversed course on a plan to bill veterans’ private insurers for medical services rendered at Department of Veterans Affairs health-care facilities after veteran’s organizations and Capitol Hill lawmakers loudly complained.
The idea was initially floated as a way to save $540 million, but apparently little or no thought was given to the backlash it would cause.
If saving money was the only reason for considering this foolhardy scheme, Mr. President, I’m only too happy to offer a tidbit of advice that would recoup nearly one-third of that money: AIG.
According to McClatchy Newspapers, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the intent of the plan was to “maximize the resources available to veterans.”
In a statement released after veterans’ groups met with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Gibbs wrote that Obama was “committed to working with veterans on the details of the 2010 VA Budget Proposal.”
“In considering the third party billing issue, the administration was seeking to maximize the resources available for veterans; however, the president listened to concerns raised by the VSOs that this might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families’ ability to access health care,” wrote Gibbs.
Leaders of numerous veterans’ groups, such as the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Disabled American Veterans were pleased with the outcome.
“The president was very open and candid when he met with veterans groups earlier this week, and we are pleased that he has heard our concerns and taken them to heart,” said David W. Gorham, the Washington headquarters executive director for the DAV. “Our message to the president was simple and direct: that our government must not abandon its moral responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.”
“Now that this ill-advised proposal is off the table, the DAV looks forward to working with the administration and Congress on crafting a good budget that will include sufficient appropriated dollars to cover veterans’ health-care needs,” Gorman said. “We also urge the president to fulfill his pledge to include advance appropriations for veterans health care in his budget submission.”
The proposal was unlikely to garner any traction had the administration not backed down. Many lawmakers, among them Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Congressman Bob Filner, D-Calif., were vocal in their disagreement over the plan.
Earlier this week, Filner, who chairs the House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs, publicly announced the proposal didn’t stand a chance of moving through the House.
“The Obama administration’s proposal to charge ‘third-party’ insurance companies for service-connected medical treatment will not be taken up by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee,” Filner wrote in a statement. “Our budget cannot be balanced on the backs (or legs, or kidneys, or hearts) of our nation’s combat-wounded heroes. We believe we can achieve the Administration’s budget request (the first in history to actually exceed the recommendation of the veterans’ Independent Budget) in other ways.”
Still, one question remains: What was Obama thinking? Anyone, anyone?
Bruce Coulter is a retired, disabled veteran and editor of the Burlington Union. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.