Legislation to boost veteran employment and offer a financial break to small businesses will give military retirees, reservists and some disabled veterans an advantage in hiring –against civilians and other fellow veterans.
Under the Hire More Heroes Act, a small business not offering a health plan could hire someone covered by Tricare or receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs and not have to pay the employer mandate stipulated in the Affordable Care Act.
That possible wrinkle appears to be only one of the unintended consequences of the bill, which passed the House and now must be approved by the Senate.
Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow for health policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, said the bill is another example of Congress trying to fix something it did not get right originally.
"There is a symbolic dimension to it [helping veterans], which is why it passed overwhelmingly," he said.
Some veterans' organizations have already endorsed the bill, though none contacted by Military.com on Thursday were ready to talk about financial incentives for hiring one type of veteran over another.
Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs under President Reagan, likened the law to the veteran's preference given to service members applying for work with the federal government.
Typically, 5 points are added to a score of a veteran who served during wartime or during specified dates. A veteran with a service connected disability, for example, would get 10 points.
"It's a good thing," Korb said, "but I do think if I've got two people to choose from and one is a veteran and one is not a veteran, and if I hire the non-vet I'm affected by the Affordable Care Act, then I'm going to hire the veteran."
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Hire More Heroes Act would cost the government more than $850 million in lost revenue over the next 10 years by reducing the number of employers who would have to pay the mandate.
Still, Haislmaier expects the law, if it is passed as is, to have only a marginal impact on the Affordable Care Act because the number of people it would affect is so small, and it only relates to those small businesses with between 10 and 50 employees.
But by extending the benefit to businesses that hire eligible veterans getting VA care, he said, Congress could be opening the door to other, non-veterans on federal health programs, including federal service civilian retirees who retire and receive healthcare under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, or people who receive care under the Indian Health Service.
That is not in the bill, but what is there sets a precedent, he said.
"It's one more example of when you keep trying to fix something in the construct that was poor to begin with you may be creating more problems," Haislmaier said.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org