On November 11, many of us will gather to mark Veterans Day and to honor the courageous individuals who have served our country. Our veterans have fought to protect and defend us, but as a new Urban Institute report details, some now face a new and daunting challenge in the country they’ve sacrificed so much for: over 600,000 veterans will lack health insurance coverage in 2017. Of these remaining uninsured veterans, 54% live in states that have not closed the Medicaid coverage gap.
While many of us presume that all veterans can receive health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many do not qualify or are unable to access VA care for a number of reasons. For example, veterans may not live near a VA health provider, they may have a service-related disability or income level that disqualifies them from VA care or they may not know they are eligible for VA services. Veterans’ family members do not qualify for VA care, leaving them at risk of going without critical health care services as well.
As Urban Institute’s report points out, 124,000 uninsured veterans nationwide would gain access to affordable health coverage if states took action to close the Medicaid coverage gap. Health insurance coverage does not just provide peace of mind for veterans and their families—it is also critical in improving veterans’ health outcomes. Urban Institute data shows that as uninsurance rates of nonelderly veterans decreased, “veterans experienced fewer unmet health needs, suggesting that increased coverage translated into improved access to care”.
Health advocates across the country are joining with veterans and their families to build a powerful movement to close the coverage gap. For example, advocates from Nebraska Appleseed are working to lift the voices of the over 2,000 veterans in their state who currently lack health insurance. Through partnerships with providers, service organizations and other non-profits across the state, advocates are connecting with uninsured veterans, listening to their stories of service and engaging them as leaders and spokespeople in the campaign. Veterans like Bob Amey, a devoted family-man and cancer survivor, are sharing their stories with fellow Nebraskans and speaking out about how health insurance coverage would impact and change their lives.
While we have made significant strides in ensuring access to health care coverage for veterans and their families under the Affordable Care Act—uninsurance rates among veterans fell an impressive 42% between 2013 and 2015—we still have a lot of work to do. 4 in 10 veterans living in states that have not expanded Medicaid fall into the coverage gap and will not have health insurance unless state policymakers take action.
It is time to fight for those who have fought so hard for us. Let’s close the coverage gap and secure health care coverage our veterans need and deserve.