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Study: Medicaid Expansion Would Help Thousands of WV Vets


Monday, February 25, 2013   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - About ten percent of West Virginia veterans don't have health insurance and can't or won't use the medical care services of the Veterans Administration, according to a recent study. The report, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, estimates there are about 11,000 uninsured vets in the state.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, said the report also found that health care could become available for a large portion of those vets if the state follows through on an option to expand Medicaid.

"We would cut the number of uninsured veterans by a third, and these are people many of whom sacrificed to protect our freedoms," Bryant declared. "And if we could extend coverage to those people, we have a moral obligation to do that," he added.

West Virginia has one of the highest proportions of veterans of any state. According to Bryant, even though many need health care, they have trouble getting it from the VA because it's only available in places they can't readily get to.

"We are a poor, very unhealthy state, and a very rural state," he said. "Even veterans who might have access to Veterans Administration benefits may not be able to access them because of long travel distance."

The federal government would pick up a hundred percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid for the first three years. Over time, that share would fall to ninety percent.

Some have said the state can't afford even ten percent. But Bryant said expanding Medicaid would actually cost the state less in the long run, by helping to keep such groups as vets healthy.

"The uninsured live sicker and die earlier than those of us with insurance," Brant noted. "Making sure that veterans could get access will save us money, it will improve their lives, and give us a healthier work force."

Under the 2010 federal health care reform, states have the option of widening Medicaid to cover families with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to announce soon if the state will expand the program.

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