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Uninsured vets could get coverage under care act

Affordable Care Act » Veteran would benefit even though he rejects the law.

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He had served a tour in Iraq, working on communications systems.

It didn’t occur to him to travel 90 miles to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City, where he wasn’t sure he would receive care. Besides, the pain was bad and his mind was muddled by painkillers.

At a glance

Where are our uninsured veterans?

An Urban Institute report used data from the 2010 American Community Survey. It said:

The states with the highest number of uninsured veterans are Texas with 130,000; California with 108,000; and Florida with 106,000.

The states with highest rates of uninsured veterans are Montana at 17.3 percent; Idaho at 14.8 percent; Oregon at 14.3 percent, and Louisiana at 14.1 percent.

An estimated 11.5 percent of Utah’s vets are uninsured.

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Holloway had been to the VA before for knee pain and made something of a vow to stay away because he felt he was displacing worse-off veterans.

The civilian hospital he went to instead, in northern Utah’s Cache Valley, wired his jaw together and reduced his $4,000 bill to less than $1,000.

He paid that off. But he’s still paying $100 a month on the $4,000 doctor’s bill.

If Utah takes its share of new money — estimated at $4.1 billion to $4.7 billion for the state between 2012 and 2019, the Kaiser Foundation estimates — and expands Medicaid, Holloway will qualify.

A college student who doesn’t make much money, he earned $6,000 in his best year, when he spent the summer working in a bakery.

If his income rises to as high as 400 percent of the federal poverty level, Holloway will still likely get a subsidy to pay for medical insurance.

VA still a route to care » Determining which veterans qualify for VA care can be complex, and veterans advocates say some eligible veterans are missing out.

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Jill Atwood, spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs George E. Wahlen Medical Center, suggests Holloway check into whether he could be using medical benefits he earned in the Army.

When vets don’t use the VA, it doesn’t help other vets, she says. It means Congress appropriates less money.

Low-income veterans given honorable discharges can qualify for VA health care; the threshold is $30,460 a year for a single veteran with no dependents.

A veteran with five dependents gets health care if he or she makes less than $45,000.

The VA provides five years of cost-free health care to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for any injury or illness associated with their service.

Beyond that, veterans get VA medical care — with varying co-payment levels — if they were injured during their service or if an illness is judged to be service connected.

A veteran held as a prisoner of war or a Purple Heart Medal recipient is eligible. So is a veteran who receives a VA pension or disability benefits.

"It’s a bummer when someone doesn’t qualify," says Atwood. But she notes the poor economy is having an effect. "We are seeing more veterans who do qualify."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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