Late Monday night, leadership staff released a 22-page technical amendment to the bill in order to make it compliant with Senate reconciliation rules. In their haste, they introduced language that could keep as many as 7 million veterans from participating in the GOP healthcare plan.
Under the original bill, service members could receive tax credits from the government so long as they were not enrolled already in the Veterans Affairs program. “In the case of other specified coverage,” a special rule with respect to veterans’ health programs read, “an individual shall not be treated as eligible for such coverage unless such individual is enrolled in such coverage.”
Translated from legislative parlance, veterans couldn’t double dip. Under the original leadership plan, they had access to both the credits and VA benefits. But they could choose only one.
By design or by accident, leadership staffers struck that language. Now retired service members qualify only if they “are not eligible” for other types of government healthcare. According to Chris Jacobs, a senior healthcare analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and CEO of the Juniper Research Group, that means “individuals eligible for, but not enrolled in, VA coverage cannot qualify for the new insurance subsidies.”
With just the stroke of a pen, some legislative staffer would force millions of veterans to rely on the VA for their healthcare whether they want it or not.
This legislative mess up will likely be corrected in the House Rules Committee or on the floor. Already President Trump has decried the VA system as “absolutely unacceptable” and it’d be political suicide to slouch on that promise now. But the gaffe points to a much larger problem.
Rushing to get the bill to the finish line, Republicans are legislating like Democrats. No doubt running on the fumes of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, sleep-deprived staffers are making costly errors. They’re leaving behind those our country promised never to forget. And as Jacobs notes, this episode has happened before.
When Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, service members and veterans were susceptible to the penalties for violating the individual mandate. That wasn’t fixed until Republicans forced a vote on exempting them. Legislating by the seat of their pants, it looks like the GOP is repeating that history again.
But they don’t have to. Rather than passing the bill to find out what’s in it, Republicans should take a deep breath and go through it with a fine toothed comb. Chances are that if this veterans blunder found its way into the bill, there are plenty of other errors waiting to be discovered.