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States that refuse Medicaid are leaving over 250,000 poor veterans uninsured

John Moore/Getty Images News

The failure of some states to expand Medicaid 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.

Twenty states are staunchly refusing to expand the program, and a few are still debating the issue.

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Opposition to Medicaid expansion could affect veterans who are eligible for benefits, too. The number of veterans who can be enrolled in the health benefits in any given year is limited by funds appropriated by Congress. To cope with this constraint, the VA has designated "priority groups" to determine who gets priority in enrollment. Medicaid eligibility can bump up a veteran's enrollment priority.

Moreover, veterans stand to benefit from dual eligibility with the VA and Medicaid. Just because an individual has veteran's benefits does not mean that a VA hospital is readily accessible. While there is a process for for seeking health services at outside hospitals, the red tape involved could discourage vets from seeking care.

The states refusing Medicaid expansion are failing their poorest and most vulnerable uninsured veterans. There's a way to fix that.

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