Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act would likely have negative consequences for veterans, a group that Republicans lawmakers typically champion, according to a report released by the nonprofit Rand Corporation on Thursday.
Between 2013 and 2015, when the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision went into effect and boosted enrollment, the number of uninsured non-elderly veterans fell by 36 percent ― from 9.1 percent to 5.8 percent.
It’s a common misconception that all veterans are eligible for health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to Rand, just more than half ― 56.8 percent of non-elderly veterans ― were eligible for VA health care in 2015. And of those eligible, only 38 percent of non-elderly veterans actually enroll in VA health care. Some veterans may live too far from a VA health center to travel there, or may prefer to use a different type of health care, such as one offered through their employer. Among those who do enroll, the majority only use the VA for a portion of their health needs.
“One of the reasons we undertook the report was that we were concerned that the potential spillover effects of ACA repeal on the VA health system weren’t getting a lot of attention from the general public and potentially also from policymakers,” said Michael Dworsky, report author and associate economist at Rand.
Dworsky and his co-authors looked at three scenarios and the effect on veteran health: the current environment with the ACA in place, if the ACA had never passed in the first place, and if the ACA were to be replaced by the American Health Care Act, the stalled Republican alternative plan. This is what they found.
If the ACA had never passed
If the ACA had never been implemented, non-elderly veterans would have used 1 percent more VA health services in 2015. And while the report didn’t specifically analyze the VA’s capacity to handle that increased demand, those increases would have translated to 125,000 more VA office visits, 1,500 more VA inpatient surgeries and 375,000 more VA prescriptions in 2015.
With the ACA implemented
Thanks to the ACA’s passage, uninsured veterans fell between 2013 and 2015, with the largest reductions concentrated in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA, including Oregon, Arkansas, Nevada, Kentucky and Washington. (Naturally, since the ACA passed, the researchers estimate that coverage changes resulted in a reduction of VA office visits, inpatient surgeries and…