American Legion lobbies for "Medicare at VA" bill

The Commander of the American Legion is urging Congress to pass a bill that would allow military veterans to pay for non-combat-related medical care received at VA hospitals with their Medicare coverage.

Under current law, the VA’s Veteran Health Administration is prohibited from seeking reimbursement from Medicare for the treatment of non-service-connected medical conditions even if the treatment is covered under Medicare. As a result, veterans with Medicare coverage who may prefer to receive care at VA hospitals and have their treatments paid for by Medicare must seek care elsewhere.

The bill, H.R. 814, is called the “Medicare VA Reimbursement Act of 2011."

"Veterans, like everyone else, pay into Medicare all their working lives," said Jimmie L. Foster, the American Legion's national commander. "So why should they not be able to use Medicare benefits at the medical facilities of their choosing – namely, VA medical centers – for all medical conditions, both service-connected and non-service-connected? VA medical care is considered by many to be the best there is, so it should be made available to as many veterans as possible. In our opinion, that is a privilege these men and women have earned through their selfless service to our nation.”

[See also: VA expands new model of healthcare billing; Medicaid patients 5.5 times more likely to get cataract surgery than VA patients, study finds]

Under current law, the VHA has the authority to bill private health insurers for the treatment of veterans’ non-service-related medical treatments, but does not allow billing of Medicare. The bill, if approved, would require the VA to develop a means to allow billing for veterans covered by Medicare Part A or Part B for these health services.

Veterans 'have earned Medicare benefits by contributing to the Medicare program during their working years. Because VA cannot bill Medicare, elderly veterans are unable to use their Medicare benefits, even if they may prefer to receive care at a VA facility among their fellow veterans,” said the bill’s sponsor, California Rep. Bob Filner, ranking Democratic member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “So for those veterans, they basically forgo the hard-earned dollars that they contributed towards Medicare benefits during their working years. This bill is important legislation that would allow elderly veterans to access both VA healthcare and their Medicare benefits.”

Foster also contends that by allowing for Medicare reimbursement at VA facilities, the money flowing in would have a broader benefit.

“It should be noted that VA's pioneering medical research and education is good not only for veterans, but for all Americans,” he said. “It's not unlike the benefits we have all derived from research and development done by NASA's space program.”