Cantwell: GOP Health Bill Hurts Veterans

Senator says House bill's cuts to Medicaid would deprive some veterans of health care

By:  Patty Hastings
Source: The Columbian

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell,D-Wash., disavowed a House-approved bill that would slash Medicaid funding and adversely impact military veterans.

“We’re worried that the Trump administration and Congress may break their promise to make sure that veterans are protected and they get access to health care. We do not want to see cuts to Medicaid that would cut veterans off of health care access in Washington and in Oregon,” said Cantwell during a Saturday morning press conference in Vancouver.

The American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, passed the House of Representatives last month with 217 to 213 votes. The vote came before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office could complete its review of the bill. In its review of the original legislation in March, however, it projected Medicaid spending would be cut by $880 billion and 24 million Americans would lose health care coverage.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, voted against her party’s bill, saying changes made to the original bill didn’t go far enough. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, was the only member of Washington’s House delegation who voted in favor of the bill.

It’s unclear whether the Senate vote will happen before the Fourth of July recess.

Cantwell dubbed the bill a “broken promise.” Trump said during campaign speeches and stated on Twitter that he would not make cuts to Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.

About 60 percent of veterans get health care outside of the Veterans Health Administration, including about 50,000 veterans in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, Cantwell said. Her press conference was held at SeaMar’s medical clinic on Delaware Lane in Vancouver. Eighty percent of SeaMar’s patients use Medicaid.

“Many people think the VA takes care of all of the veterans’ health care needs. While it’s a critical provider of health care, we also need to make sure that veterans who access the system through Medicaid and places here like SeaMar get the attention they need,” Cantwell said.

About 500 local veterans use SeaMar’s services, said Clinic Manager Hope Murray. They typically have gaps or a lack of continuity in their care, may have low incomes and may not qualify for services through the VA, she said. Even for those with VA coverage, Medicaid helps fill gaps in care.

“The VA is overworked here in Clark County for sure,” she said.

Army veteran R.C. Miles, who served in Berlin between 1979 and 1985, relies on Medicaid.

“I don’t get VA. That’s the problem. If they cut these programs, I wouldn’t be able to have mental health (care) or any of my medications or anything that I should have,” Miles said.

Emily Cooper, who is a staff attorney and investigator with Disability Rights Washington, said the state has been innovative in how Medicaid dollars are used, including a new program that provides housing support for people with disabilities.

“These are individuals who have fought for our country and when they come home they have to fight for the services they need,” Cooper said, noting that it can take a while to start receiving benefits.

Mike Rosenbalm medically retired from the Army in 1986 after a spinal cord injury partially paralyzed him, leaving him dependent on a wheelchair.

“Veterans deserve better. We urge our commander in chief to consider the impact that gutting Medicaid would take on the lives and health of those who have sacrificed so much in service to our nation,” said Rosenbalm, who is the hospital liaison for the Oregon chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The Medicaid cuts are not only unconscionable but represent a monumental lie to over 62 million Americans who were told that Medicaid cuts would not happen if the (Trump) administration was elected.”

Rosenbalm doesn’t qualify for Medicaid but uses a mix of Medicare and VA benefits. He is urging any veterans who aren’t signed up for VA benefits to do so before the American Health Care Act becomes law.

“Health care is not a political issue. It is literally a matter of life and death for millions,” he said. “We are unconcerned with partisan arguments, political affiliations or even the title of the new health care law. We simply want our government to get it done.”

Cantwell said she wants to make sure her colleagues in Washington D.C. stop and understand the damage they would be doing to veterans by passing the bill as is.