The Hill: Repealing the Affordable Care Act: Too big a price to pay for veterans

by Jon Tester

As the number of daily COVID-19 infections hits record highs in the United States, millions of Americans are faced with a deeply unsettling possibility: losing health care coverage in the midst of a global pandemic.

Just days after voters across the country turned out in record numbers to make their voices heard, the Supreme Court heard arguments on California v. Texas last week – a lawsuit that challenges the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and threatens to strip health care coverage and patient protections from families across the country, including millions of veterans who have selflessly served our nation.

The effects of overturning the ACA would be more far-reaching than most can imagine. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides high-quality, integrated health care to veterans across the country, but not all veterans are eligible for VA care or choose to use the VA. The ACA was instrumental in expanding veterans’ health care protections and coverage options through the expansion of Medicaid, the creation of the Marketplace for purchasing individual health insurance, and by requiring insurance plans to cover essential health care services. Since the ACA was signed in 2010, the number of uninsured veterans has dropped by nearly 40 percent. This latest push to repeal the ACA through the Supreme Court – backed by the Trump administration and Senate Republicans – could reverse this progress, devastating the 1.75 million veterans who rely on Medicaid for critical health coverage.

Further, self-employed veterans or veteran small business owners could see their affordable health care coverage through the ACA’s Marketplace ripped away. In my home state of Montana, this would affect upwards of 9,000 veterans who would lose access to the premium tax credits that make these health insurance plans affordable. This lawsuit is jeopardizing veterans’ and their families’ access to affordable health care and could drive-up wait times at the VA, as many veterans face limited coverage options and could turn to the Department for help.

For the more than 11 million veterans with Medicare coverage, dismantling the ACA would mean higher costs. Premiums would rise if the ACA’s cost-saving measures are erased, and out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs would increase with the reinstatement of the “donut hole” – a dangerous coverage gap in Medicare drug plans. At a time when health care and drug costs are already astronomically high, overturning the ACA would put the lion’s share of the financial burden on elderly and aging Americans, including veterans.

For folks returning home from military service struggling with invisible wounds of war, access to affordable mental health care and substance use disorder services is essential. Before the ACA, nearly half of insurance companies did not cover substance use disorder services and nearly 40 percent did not cover mental health services. And without the ACA’s preexisting condition protections, insurers would have full license to charge veterans higher premiums, exclude benefits, or deny coverage for folks who need it most. If Republicans are as focused on ending the veteran suicide epidemic as they claim, then they should think twice before throwing their full support behind a lawsuit that completely undermines that notion.

The ACA is by no means perfect – but it’s impossible to overlook the critical protections it provides for millions of individuals, veterans, and families across the country. The GOP’s decade-long political crusade to strip health care coverage and patient protection from Americans – especially during a national health emergency – is not only wrong, it’s reckless, unconscionable, and hurts the men and women who wore our nation’s uniforms.

As the future of our nation’s health care system hangs in the balance, veterans, seniors, rural Americans, women, and small business owners could all end up bearing the brunt of the consequences. Republicans, who have spent 10 years trying to destroy the system without providing any alternative health care plan, should ask themselves, “Is it worth it?” I’m just a farmer from Big Sandy, Mont., but ripping away health care coverage from our veterans in the middle of a global pandemic seems like too big a price to pay.