According to the American Legion, the Obama administration plans to increase the role of private insurance in medicine. For starters, Obama proposes to backcharge health care costs for veterans' service-connected injuries to their private health insurers.
"The president's avowed purpose in doing this is to, quote, 'make the insurance companies pay their fair share,'" [American Legion media relations manager Craig] Roberts said. But he said it will raise premiums, make insurance unaffordable for veterans and impose a massive hardship on military families. It could also prevent small businesses from hiring veterans who have large health care needs, he said.
"It's not the Blue Cross that puts soldiers in harm's way, it's the federal government," Robert said, adding that the American Legion would like the existing system to remain in place. Service-related injuries currently are treated and paid for by the government.
For those inclined to think of insurance companies merely as evil, without knowing much about the subject, this may sound like a terrific idea, as it transfers the costs of health care for service-connected disabilities away from taxpayers. But if one examines this from the veteran's perspective, the plan is a bust and a betrayal.
Under the system that's been in place since World War II, the Department of Veterans Affairs assumes the cost of medical care for injuries and disabilities acquired in service for the life of the veteran. This is fair, as the veteran got his injuries on duty, and it's not far removed from what workers compensation provides for civilians injured on the job. Of course the costs of such care may be high indeed, but historically America has made a bargain with those who risk life and limb in combat, that they'll be cared for if the risks come to pass.
Non-service connected injuries and diseases, however, are not covered by veterans' benefits, nor should they be. A retired sailor who falls from a ladder in his backyard, or contracts colon cancer because of a diet high in red meat, is in the same boat as everyone else, and needs to look to private health insurance or other means to pay for medical treatment of those conditions. Since the risk isn't service-connected, taxpayers shouldn't be asked to assume it.
Under the proposed new rules, the government is pushing much of its risk not onto insurance companies, but onto veterans themselves. If a soldier returns from Iraq with a disabling and expensive injury, a private insurer is unlikely to provide that soldier insurance if it knows it will be required to pay health costs immediately on writing the policy, or it will charge a high premium indeed. For many if not most injured veterans, that will mean going without insurance entirely. For those fortunate enough to get insurance, it will mean that what coverage they have isn't there when they need it, for non-service conditions. "Sorry Mr. Smith, we can't cover your cancer, because your policy limits were exhausted on physical therapy and surgery for your old leg wound, etc."
This policy will force injured veterans into a choice between paying unreasonable premiums for health insurance that is potentially worthless, as the VA Hospital system consumes it for obligations that were formerly public, or going without insurance entirely, in which case all of their health care costs, eventually, will be public. As will, of course, their families', since most families obtain their insurance from one policy.
A cynic would say that this is a backdoor to fully socialized medicine, setting the stage for horror stories of uninsured vets bankrupted by health care costs for non-service injuries. But that would be evil.
I prefer not to think of my government as evil, but as merely, in this case, stupid. Though he ran against an opponent who is a decorated veteran and understands these issues keenly, Barack Obama obtained many endorsements and votes from veterans based on his promise: "I will not let you down."
The American Legion is calling him on his promise, but so should we all. As the Legion points out, soldiers don't get injured fighting for Blue Cross. They do it for the rest of us.