2003-07-09 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

Congress Dems Offer Veteran Healthcare Benefits
By John Toscano
Senior Spotlight By John Toscano

Congress Dems Offer Veteran Healthcare Benefits

Taking a sharp poke at President George W. Bush for supporting legislation that would deny an important benefit to 24,000 New York City veterans, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney declared:

"Veterans deserve more than rhetoric for their service to our country—they deserve adequate health care and retirement benefits at the very least."

The Queens/Manhattan lawmaker charged that the president has asked Congress to pass legislation that would exclude thousands of New York veterans from VA health care.

To counter this, she said, the Democratic New York delegation is sponsoring legislation that strengthens veterans’ benefits "out of respect for those now serving and for those who have already defended our freedom.

"We cannot shortchange our veterans of the benefits they deserve for serving our country," she said.

The Democrats’ bill is called the Salute to Veterans and the Armed Forces. She said the measure emerged from a new report conducted by the House Committee on Government Reform, Special Investigations Division, Minority Staff.

The report found, Maloney said, that 24,000 New York City vets and more than 130,000 statewide will be denied VA health care or forced to drop out of the system if a budget proposed by the Bush Administration advances in Congress.

The Salute to Veterans bill, she said, is designed to improve the quality and accessibility of health care and other services to veterans, including elimination of the "disabled veterans tax" that prevents disabled veterans from receiving both retirement and disability payments.

The Salute package features measures that would reduce veterans’ waiting times for health care, block increases in prescription drug co-payments and enrollment fees, improve educational opportunities for reservists and expand outreach efforts to inform veterans of their rights.

Maloney said the proposal includes a $1,000 bonus for those who served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan and is also designed to assist families of those killed in action by eliminating the reduction in benefits that a surviving spouse receives beginning at age 62 under the Survivor Benefits Plan.

Recently, Maloney said, House Democrats began a discharge petition to force the House to consider one aspect of the Salute bill—the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2003. Even though the bill currently has 320 co-sponsors, the House Republican leadership has not scheduled the legislation for a vote. Already, 200 members have signed the discharge petition, which requires 218 signatures in order to force a vote on the bill.

EPIC IN TROUBLE? Reports out of Washington say that provisions in the new Medicare prescription bills do not authorize federal subsidies to the New York state drug discount program, the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Plan (EPIC).

Instead, private prescription drug plans offered would be eligible for the subsidy. EPIC and other state-operated drug assistance plans would have to be radically changed to continue to receive subsidies. An aide to Governor George Pataki said the governor would not favor making such changes.

The Medicare prescription drug bills passed by the House and Senate are presently in the hands of a joint House/Senate committee which must develop a single bill, in agreement in every respect, that would then have to be passed by both houses to produce one of the greatest changes in Medicare in its 38-year history.

The House bill which passed leans very heavily toward giving private insurance firms practically total control over administering the new prescription benefits, but the Senate bill is more balanced between having Medicare and the private companies share in implementing the plan.

Last week, lobbyists for private health insurance carriers started a campaign to get major changes in the drug prescription plan, including increased subsidies and greater stability. Without these changes, they may not want to get into the program. However, it’s felt this is just a threat to get a better deal from the government.

Another change being sought is to have more companies eligible to offer programs, rather than three preferred providers authorized in the pending legislation.


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