The Department of Veterans Affairs sent veterans and other Americans in its database a seven-page color brochure titled “The Affordable Care Act: For Veterans Who Need Health Care Coverage,” with a letter dated March 7 that appears addressed to individuals who don't use VA health insurance. The packet urges them to enroll in either VA coverage or Obamacare to ensure that they meet the federal mandate to carry health insurance or pay a fine.
A VA spokesman told the Washington Examiner that the department estimates that up to 1.3 million veterans are uninsured, about 1 million of whom are eligible for VA health care. The spokesman did not dispute that the VA also is seeking to encourage uninsured veterans to consider Obamacare as a health insurance option. The VA is collaborating with other departments on the implementation of Obamacare, the spokesman said.
“We will continue our education and outreach efforts so veterans know the health care law does not affect their VA health benefits or out-of-pocket costs, and that veterans enrolled in VA health care do not need to take additional steps to meet ACA's new coverage standards. We will also encourage veterans' family members not enrolled in a VA health care program to obtain coverage through the health insurance marketplaces,” the VA spokesman said in an email exchange.
In the wake of the troubled launch of the health care law in October, the Obama administration scrambled to boost enrollment to ensure the program is financially viable. The administration could fall short of its goal of seven million enrollees when open enrollment closes at month’s end, but officials are nonetheless optimistic about the program’s progress. The administration recently announced that five million people have signed up, although it’s not clear how many have paid their premiums.
An individual is not considered insured until he pays his first premium.
The White House continues to aggressively push Obamacare enrollment through several avenues. President Obama has appeared on nontraditional media outlets, even conducting a mock interview with a comedian, in an effort to accelerate sign-ups among the crucial young-and-healthy demographic. Additionally, various agencies other than the Department of Health and Human Services have cooperated to encourage Americans to purchase Obamacare policies.
What's unknown is how much the administration has spent on extraordinary efforts -- such as the VA mailer -- to lure more customers to the health care exchanges. HHS redirected existing funds to finance Obamacare promotion after House Republicans blocked administration requests to appropriate more money for the program. However, HHS has revealed very little on which programs or agency departments it raided to fund the effort.
Health care analysts said the administration’s actions should hardly be surprising.
Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, the official nonprofit service organization for U.S. military veterans, said the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land” and could benefit veterans ineligible for VA health care.
Edmund Haislmaier, a senior research fellow in health policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, said the administration is predictably doing everything it can to boost Obamacare enrollment.
“It's reasonable to assume that they're just trying to increase enrollment and they're using different avenues, using various other agencies to promote enrollment, like they did with the Agriculture Department and other departments. I'm not surprised giving the timing of it -- it's another late push,” Haislmaier said.
“This is the equivalent of looking for change under the sofa. They're looking for enrollees anywhere they can find them,” he added.