From the New York Times:
Under withering criticism from veterans and Congress, President Obama on Wednesday abandoned a proposal that would have required veterans to use their private health insurance to pay for the treatment of combat-related injuries. ...
In a recent letter to the president, the American Legion and 10 other veterans organizations denounced the proposal as “a total abrogation of our government’s moral and legal responsibility” to treat service-connected injuries and illnesses.
Lawmakers of both parties said the proposal would have made it more difficult for some veterans to get affordable private health insurance for themselves and their families. [Emphasis added]
Both of the reasons for rejecting the plan are sound, not to mention patently obvious.
If the country exposes members of the armed services to dangerous situations in the defense of the nation, it must be willing to bear the burden of caring for the injuries or illnesses incurred. That's part of the deal offered to enlistees. "We'll take care of you." The money to do so comes from federal tax dollars because the citizenry expects the government to provide for our defense from outside aggressors. That's part of the deal for having a government.
When times are tough and the government needs to pare costs, the president needs to look at the truly wasteful, not the unfortunately expensive. There certainly have been and are plenty of targets available: bridges to nowhere, pork which benefits a very few who can afford powerful lobbyists, Medicare Part D which does not allow for negotiating prescription drug costs, battleships which even the Navy doesn't want.
There are practical reasons for why the floated proposal smelled up the joint, however. Private insurers are profit-driven. They have no vested interest in providing expensive health care, only in healthy bottom lines. That's why every health insurance policy I've ever read actually excludes coverage for injuries incurred during an act of war. Abrogating those policy exclusions will not do anything but give the insurer an incentive to deny coverage to members of the military and their families.
Further, all policies have what is called a "stop-loss," a limit to the number of dollars which the company will spend to provide treatment under the policy. Given some of the horrific injuries sustained by soldiers in Iraq and increasingly in Afghanistan, that limit will be easily reached, which means that the soldiers' families will be without health care coverage.
The whole episode was preposterous, and, just as important, damaging to the "political capital" the president is obviously relying on. Hopefully his team is a bit more intelligent in crafting a real health care plan, although at this point I am beginning to have some serious doubts.
Labels: Health Care