WASHINGTON ― The Republican health care plan that passed the House on Thursday could increase costs for up to 7 million veterans, Democrats working on veterans issues warned.
The bill appears to cut tax credits for veterans who are eligible to receive health care from the Veterans Affairs system, Democratic lawmakers noted. An estimated 7 million veterans who qualify for such care do not receive it for a range of reasons: They may live too far away from a VA center, their incomes may be too high for them to be placed in a high-priority group for VA access, or they may have health issues unrelated to their service that the VA will not cover.
Those veterans have to either secure employer-provided insurance, paying their own share for such a plan, or buy insurance themselves. By taking away the credits that Obamacare offered for those seeking insurance on their own, the GOP proposal effectively means a tax hike.
“It’s ridiculous,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran, told HuffPost.
House Veterans Affairs Committee member Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) blasted the policy on the House floor as lawmakers voted on the bill.
“Those 7 million veterans who are eligible for VA care, even if they are not enrolled, would not have access to the tax credits in this law,” Takano said. “This is not fear-mongering. This is not hyperbole. This is the text of the bill we are voting on today.”
The progressive group Vote Vets, which urged members to call and complain about the bill, publicized the problem, too.
Prior to the bill’s passage, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, suggested that the legislation would retain tax credits for veterans. A provision in an earlier draft of the bill would have kept the credits, but that policy did not make it into the final legislation.
Now Republican defenders of the health care plan ― including Roe ― argue that the credits will survive because of a 2012 IRS rule they say is not affected by the GOP plan.
But that rule was drafted when Obamacare was the law of the land. Democrats argued that it would have to be rewritten if the Affordable Care Act is repealed ― which means there is no certainty that the guidance would still count and that veterans would receive tax relief.
“The tax rule does not apply … it would not provide surefire protections, and our veterans deserve better than a half-baked promise,” Duckworth told HuffPost. “I think our veterans deserve outright to be protected.”
Duckworth and others became vocal about the issue in March, when the GOP first tried to pass its health care proposal. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, the freshman senator argued that veterans could face thousands of dollars in health care cost increases.
Chris Jacobs, a senior health care analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, agreed. “Given a universe of seven million veterans potentially affected by the changes, doubtless many veterans would be actually affected by the House language,” Jacobs wrote on March 22. “And as a policy matter, it is unclear why the revised House language, by cutting off access to the credit for those eligible for but not enrolled in VA coverage, seeks to direct more people into a government-run VA health system still suffering from the effects of the wait time reporting scandal.”
Jacobs guessed that the GOP would try to fix the error before pushing the bill forward, but that didn’t happen on Thursday.
“We were loud and clear about the disastrous impact [the GOP legislation] could potentially have on millions of veterans when the bill was brought up for debate in March,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, House Republicans never listened to our warning, and as a result, if this deeply flawed legislation passes as it is written, millions of veterans and their families could have diminished choice in where to seek care,” Walz added.
Still, Republicans celebrated the vote on Thursday afternoon, reportedly with cases of Bud Light specially brought to the Capitol.