AARP Illinois' Memorial Day Message: Medicaid Expansion Critical For Veterans

17,600 Uninsured Illinois Veterans Would Receive Health Care Coverage

May 27, 2013, 10:00 ET from AARP Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., May 27, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This Memorial Day, AARP Illinois is highlighting a recent report by the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which shows that nearly 17,600 of the 42,000 currently uninsured Illinois veterans would receive health coverage if Medicaid is expanded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Senate Bill 26 would expand Medicaid in Illinois, providing these veterans with access to the health care coverage they need.  A final vote on Senate Bill 26 is expected before the General Assembly adjourns this month.

"As we honor our veterans this Memorial Day, we can also provide much-needed help to those who have served our nation by expanding health care coverage to veterans currently without health insurance," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director.  "AARP is fighting for affordable health coverage in Illinois to help veterans, as well as the nearly 153,000 hard-working 45 to 64 year olds who are struggling without health insurance." 

The report, "Uninsured Veterans and Family Members: Who Are They and Where Do They Live?", says there are 1.3 million veterans under age 65 uninsured in the United States, and about 40 percent of those could qualify for health coverage through Medicaid expansion. 

"Our uninsured veterans' health care coverage depends upon Medicaid expansion, and they deserve our support," Gallo said.

Many assume that all veterans receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care coverage, but that's not the case.  VA care is out of reach for low-income veterans who do not live near VA facilities or are unaware that VA care is available.  In addition, VA eligibility is determined by other factors including service-related disabilities and income, and many veterans make too much money to qualify for VA assistance, but not enough to afford insurance on their own.  Most spouses of veterans do not qualify for VA assistance or for Medicaid under current requirements. 

The need for care is particularly great for veterans who often have chronic health problems that may go untreated because they lack insurance coverage.  According to the report, one-third of uninsured veterans nationally have at least one chronic health problem, over 40 percent have unmet medical needs and more than a third have delayed getting needed care because of high costs.  Uninsured veterans' families would also benefit from Medicaid expansion – the report says that more than half of those family members have unmet medical needs.

Medicaid expansion under the ACA allows states to extend coverage to individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – about $15,000 for an individual and $32,000 for a family of four.  In Illinois, nearly 17,600 veterans are at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and would be eligible for Medicaid coverage if Illinois chooses expansion.  Additionally, 4,400 spouses of veterans could qualify for coverage if the state approves Medicaid expansion.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion in Illinois for the first three years and that figure gradually moves to 90 percent thereafter, pumping an estimated $4.6 billion into the state's economy.  It will also generate significant cost savings, providing access to preventive care that veterans and their families need while reducing the need for expensive emergency room care.

"Medicaid expansion would benefit many in our state, but our veterans and their families in particular deserve to get the health care they need," added Gallo.