Friday, December 9, 2016

Extend no-co-pay preventive care to veterans

By Tammy Duckworth and Lee Zeldin
| Special to Stars and Stripes |
Published: December 6, 2016

As veterans, we’ve both made supporting fellow veterans one of our top priorities since arriving in Congress because we understand just how important it is for our nation to protect those we’ve sent into harm’s way to defend this country. We all have a solemn duty to uphold the promises we’ve made to them, not only while they are deployed overseas or on the front line, but when they return home as well — and there is so much more we can do to improve veterans’ quality of life.
Though we are on opposite sides of the aisle and certainly don’t agree on everything, we’re willing to put veterans first when we find problems that require fixing. And we think we’ve found one.
Today, there are only two groups of Americans forced to pay out-of-pocket for essential preventive health services and medications: those without insurance and veterans. Veterans are the only insured Americans asked to pay for these services, as all other insured Americans’ providers offer preventive services without requiring co-pays, including Tricare for active-duty servicemembers.
It’s certainly unfair to ask veterans to pay more than other Americans, but we should fix this disparity not only to help veterans lead longer, healthier lives; we should also do it to help save taxpayer dollars by lowering the cost of caring for veterans. The medical community and insurance industry recognized long ago that subsidizing preventive care could drastically cut medical bills later on, because they can delay or even prevent more costly medical conditions from developing in the first place.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of deaths among Americans can be attributed to chronic diseases. Nearly 50 percent of adults have at least one chronic illness, and many of those may be preventable if caught early.
But current policies make it harder — and more expensive — to get the basic level of preventive care all insured Americans can receive without copays. Our nation is asking too many veterans to pay for their own folic acid that can prevent cancer, aspirin that can help stave off heart attacks and breast cancer prevention medication, even though providing those relatively cheap medications could stave off deadly, not to mention costly, illnesses which could help save or extend their lives.
Given the cost, in both dollars and lives, associated with chronic disease, investing in preventive health care strategies is both sensible and cost-effective. That’s why every public and private health insurance plan — except for the Veterans Health Administration, which provides insurance benefits to veterans — offers preventive care without requiring copays.
The time has come to provide our nation’s veterans with the same quality of coverage we provide every other insured American, which is why we introduced the bipartisan Veterans Preventive Health Coverage Fairness Act, which addresses this clear problem by bringing veterans’ preventive health benefits in line with those provided to active-duty service members and all other insured Americans.
We’re proud that five major veteran service organizations have already endorsed it. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the Military Order of the Purple Heart agree that we should remedy this disparity, and they are working with us to help pass our legislation.
All Americans deserve access to the best health care possible — especially the veterans who risked life and limb to defend our nation and made significant sacrifices on our behalf. Congress should pass our Veterans Preventive Health Coverage Fairness Act to align the Department of Veterans Affairs’ prescription fee structure with industry standards and provide the best care for our veterans.
Sen.-elect Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, represents Illinois’ 8th District in the House of Representatives. She is an Iraq War veteran and former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican, represents New York’s 1st District in the House of Representatives. He is an Army veteran and a major in the Army Reserve.

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