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Lawmakers Battle Over Whether New Health Care Bill Hurts Vets

A veteran has his blood drawn for testing at a VA clinic. (image: va.gov)
A veteran has his blood drawn for testing at a VA clinic. (image: va.gov)

A partisan fight broke out in the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Friday over whether the new health care bill proposal to replace Obamacare would help or hurt vets.

The Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, vehemently said the proposed bill, called the American Health Care Act, wouldn't hurt veterans. Democrats just as vehemently said it would.

The issue is tax credits and how they do or don't apply to veterans under Obamacare, which Republicans want to repeal and replace.

As it stands now, veterans who are currently enrolled in VA health care are deemed to meet minimum coverage requirements under Obamacare, meaning they are not eligible for tax credits.

However, veterans who are not enrolled in VA health care, even if they are eligible but have chosen not to enroll, are eligible for the tax credits to purchase coverage.

Roe insisted that the health care bill narrowly passed by the House on Thursday without any support from Democrats would not affect tax credits for veterans not currently enrolled in VA health care. Democratic legislators said it would because language on the tax credits was left out of the proposed legislation passed by the House.

Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the proposed bill could deny tax credits to any individual who is "eligible" for other health care programs, such as VA health care or Tricare.

"This provision potentially denies seven million veterans access to health care, because though technically eligible, they are not currently enrolled in VA health care," he said in a statement.

Walz charged that Republicans "have recklessly forged ahead despite the consequences" and warnings from veterans service organizations.

Rep. Julia Brownley of California, the ranking Democrat on the Health Subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, "While I am deeply concerned about many aspects of this bill, the rush to put politics ahead of people, and the impact it could have on our veterans as a consequence, is simply shameful."

Roe accused the Democrats of "fear mongering" to drum up opposition to the bill passed by the House. He said language on the tax credits was not needed in the proposed bill since it is an Internal Revenue Service regulation.

"The American Health Care Act protects veterans' health care -- any claims to the contrary are false," he said. Putting language on tax credits into the proposed bill would have been in violation of the Senate's reconciliation rules, and so "that language had to be removed."

Roe said, "Nothing in this bill would change the existing regulation, and veterans' access to tax credits will not be affected by the American Health Care Act."

The Paralyzed Veterans of America urged rejection of the American Health Care Act.

"We are very concerned about the conflicting information circulating about this legislation and the adverse impact it could have on our members and millions of other people with disabilities," the PVA said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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