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A veteran-centric look at Medicaid expansion

When red states deny struggling Americans health care by rejecting Medicaid expansion, they're "leaving a quarter-million veterans without health insurance."
A U.S. Army unit marches during the annual Veterans Day Parade in NYC, Nov. 11, 2013.
A U.S. Army unit marches during the annual Veterans Day Parade in NYC, Nov. 11, 2013.
There are millions of low-income Americans stuck in an awkward Republican trap: they live in "red" states that refuse to accept Medicaid expansion. It's a well-documented problem, which is slowly getting better as some GOP governors realize their posture -- hurting their own constituents out of partisan spite -- is unsustainable.
But in the meantime, as Adrianna McIntyre explained, the Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion is "leaving a quarter-million veterans without health insurance."

Many assume that all of the nation's veterans are entitled to health care through the Veteran's Administration, but that's not the case; a veteran must have served for two continuous years or the full period for which they were called to active duty in order to be eligible. There are some exceptions -- like for individuals who were discharged for a disability sustained in the line of duty -- but about 1.3 million veterans remain uninsured nationwide. According to a report by Pew using analysis from the Urban Institute, approximately 258,600 of those veterans are living below the poverty line in states refusing to expand Medicaid. Without veteran's benefits -- and with incomes too low to qualify for subsidies to use on the state exchanges -- these veterans are left without affordable coverage options.

There's an extremely easy fix to this problem -- red-state governors can simply take the good deal -- though for most of the GOP officials involved, that's still not an option.
That said, this detail about Medicaid expansion serves as an important reminder: the potency of the VA scandal extends beyond the VA itself.
As the seriousness of the controversy becomes better known, policymakers and political figures are eager to position themselves as champions of those who serve in the military. But for some, that's trickier than for others.
As we talked about this morning, when Republicans voted to cut food stamps, the plan, if implemented, would have hurt veterans. When GOP lawmakers cut off extended unemployment benefits, that adversely affected hundreds of thousands of veterans. When Republican senators blocked a Democratic bill to expand VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training, that obviously didn't do veterans any favors.
And clearly, there's a veterans' angle to Medicaid expansion.
The larger point arguably has to do with political capital. When Republican policymakers reject progressive ideas, they tend to believe they're ignoring the interests of those the political world routinely overlook: those at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, many of whom don't vote. It helps explain why GOP officials generally don't fear a public/electoral backlash when they oppose popular measures like jobless aid -- they work from the assumption that those on the losing end of their agenda lack political clout,
But as the VA scandal generates some much-needed, long-overdue attention, there's a shift in the calculus. All of a sudden, the question isn't just, "How many low-income families will take a hit from this Republican policy?" it's also, "How many veterans will lose out?"
Adrianna McIntyre concluded, "The states refusing Medicaid expansion are failing their poorest and most vulnerable uninsured veterans. There's a way to fix that."
Perhaps, by some measures, the VA scandal might make such a fix more likely?