Thursday, June 21, 2007

Testimony: Nearly 2 million veterans without health insurance

As the nation struggles to improve medical and mental health care for military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, about 1.8 million U.S. veterans under age 65 lack even basic health insurance or access to care at Veterans Affairs hospitals, a new study has found.

The ranks of uninsured veterans have increased by 290,000 since 2000, said Stephanie J. Woolhandler, the Harvard Medical School professor who presented her findings yesterday before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. About 12.7 percent of non-elderly veterans -- or one in eight -- lacked health coverage in 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, she said, up from 9.9 percent in 2000. Veterans 65 and older are eligible for Medicare...

Nearly 8 million veterans were enrolled in the VA health system in 2006. The focus of the hearing was whether to open VA hospitals' doors to so-called Priority 8 veterans, who have no service-connected disabilities and whose earnings generally are above 80 percent of the median income where they live. Doing so would add significantly to VA's caseload and costs -- estimates range from $366 million to $3.3 billion annually -- and some veterans groups and lawmakers are concerned that it would make it harder for veterans with serious service-related health problems to get timely care.

Read the rest at the Washington Post