Guest Opinions

Legislature must act to help veterans in health care gap

Paul Kalb
Paul Kalb

This Veterans Day, let’s pause to consider ways that we can better care for the very Americans who have cared for us and our country by serving in our armed forces. One way that we, as Idahoans, can act to do this right away is by providing health care coverage to those who are excluded by other programs, including thousands of veterans who live right here in Idaho

As a veteran, I made sacrifices and put myself in harm’s way on every deployment. While I am fortunate to have health care through my wife’s insurance and VA medical, that could change quickly. My wife has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and currently receives her medical care through private insurance. If she is unable to work or is laid off, we would not be able to afford health care because of Idaho’s coverage gap, meaning our income is above the Medicaid eligibility limits but below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits. Idaho has the highest rate of uninsured veterans in the country. Census figures indicate there are at least 3,800 Idaho veterans in the coverage gap and 1,200 spouses of veterans.

Current health insurance coverage for veterans is fractured. Some have benefits and some are excluded based on which medical conditions are “service connected.” Not all National Guard Service members are eligible for health care in the Veterans Affairs Health Care System. At the same time, some Reserve Service members from all branches of the armed services are not eligible for health care benefits. If they are eligible for health care benefits, their family members may not have any health care coverage unless they are retired from the service.

In the last few years, the Veterans Administration has introduced the Veterans Choice Program that allows veterans to receive care in the community through certified providers. Nevertheless, I and many other veterans have been denied the care we need to maintain our quality of life. A perfect example of this is my recent foot surgery performed by a private doctor using private health insurance. This surgery was not covered by the VA even though I have undergone seven other surgeries since I left active duty in 1993 that were covered. This surgery fixed my left big toe that was fused wrong and was overlapping the toes next to it.

Thankfully, I had the private medical insurance coverage to have this issue addressed. If I did not have access to that coverage, most likely I would have delayed surgery until I was unable to walk or several of my toes had to be amputated.

Today and beyond Veterans Day, I hope others will join me in asking that the Legislature’s Healthcare Alternatives Workgroup provide Idaho veterans with the care they have earned by recommending to the full Legislature that our state close the coverage gap. Enough is enough. This proposal needs to move forward to protect the citizens of Idaho and to take care of the thousands of Idaho veterans who lack access to quality, affordable health care.

Paul M. Kalb, of Star, served in the Navy. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine on the GI bill and is studying to become a professional counselor.