KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

VA Provides Underused Monthly Pension Benefit While Medicaid Receives Increased Attention

Medicaid receives increased attention while an underused, special monthly pension benefit called Aid and Attendance can help veterans, and spouses, with assisted living. 

Newsday reports that the "pension benefit may be available to wartime veterans and surviving spouses who have in-home care or who live in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities" and that "eligible veterans need not have served overseas or in combat; they must have served during the period of a war: World War II, Dec. 7, 1941-Dec. 31, 1946; Korea, June 27, 1950-Jan. 31, 1955; Vietnam, Aug. 5, 1964-May 7, 1975; Persian Gulf War, Aug. 2, 1990 to a date not yet determined." A 2006 press release about the program "got little notice, perhaps because Veterans Affairs wanted to save money... [but that] as word of the benefit got around, elder law firms throughout the country became active in pursuing the benefit for clients." The benefit is meant for veterans and surviving spouses with unreimbursed medical expenses, such as assisted-living charges that are not supported by Medicaid. The Philadelphia Inquirer also picked up the feature (Friedman, 6/27). 

Meanwhile, Kaiser Health News provides an overview of Medicaid which highlights the program's role in nursing home care: "About three quarters of Medicaid spending is for the elderly and disabled, even though the two groups make up only about one quarter of the program's enrollees. Medicare provides little coverage for long-term care, so many elderly, after depleting their savings, rely on Medicaid to pay their costly nursing home bills" (Galewitz, 7/1).

In another article, Kaiser Health News reports on the hot-button health issue of whether Medicaid or private insurance is better for the uninsured poor. KHN reports: "Medicaid's role in health reform is emerging as a flash point, exposing policy and political rifts not only between the two parties but also among Democrats themselves. As part of efforts to extend health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, congressional Democrats are pressing for a major expansion in the state-federal program for the poor and disabled. As a result, Medicaid, which now covers 60 million people, could pick up more than one-third of the 46 million uninsured. Those numbers are far from final, given that overhaul legislation is still being written and negotiated. The disagreement centers on a critical issue: What's the best way to cover impoverished Americans? .... Most Democrats come down squarely on the side of Medicaid, saying it's the most efficient and least expensive way to cover the poor.... Most Republicans, leery about expanding a big government program like Medicaid, argue that private insurance is a better way to go. Some moderate Democrats agree." KHN notes: "In the end, though, Medicaid's role in health reform may be bolstered by simple math: Studies suggest that enrolling people in the program would be substantially cheaper than giving them subsidies for private insurance. That could have a big impact on lawmakers trying to figure out how to pay for a health overhaul" (Carey, 7/1).

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