In the Iraqi desert in 2004, I was throwing on a 100-pound outer tactical vest strapped with ammunition to prepare for a convoy when I felt a rush of warmth in my shoulder, like someone had spilled hot water inside my muscle and skin. For a split second, it was just that wash of heat that I felt. Then the pain came.
The medic guessed that I had torn my rotator cuff, but there was nothing he could do to diagnose or treat an injury like that at our base. He told me my best bet was the military hospital in Germany, where I could get surgery and recover.
I decided it was more important to stay with my unit, and I finished my deployment. When I returned to Maine, I learned the medic had been right: my rotator cuff was torn. So were my labrum and my bicep, in both shoulders. I have had several shoulder surgeries, live with chronic pain and limited mobility, and will need to completely replace both shoulder joints in the coming years. I know many other veterans with far more serious health issues.
I am lucky enough to receive excellent health insurance through my job, as well as qualify for VA benefits. Contrary to what many believe, a majority of America’s 20 million veterans do not receive health care from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. But many of my fellow veterans are at risk of losing their health care if the Republican’s proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act passes in the U.S. Senate.
Not all veterans qualify for VA benefits nor live near enough to a VA hospital to take advantage of them. For the approximately 40 percent of veterans who fall into those categories, and for all our families, we rely on the same three sources of coverage as everyone else — employer-provided insurance, privately purchased individual insurance and social insurance programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Ten percent of veterans — 1.75 million servicemen and women nationwide, 15,000 in Maine alone — use Medicaid as a source of coverage, which is one reason why Republican efforts to drastically reduce Medicaid spending are terrible for veterans.
The Affordable Care Act has allowed hundreds of thousands of veterans to finally get health insurance, according to a 2016 study by the Urban Institute. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of uninsured veterans dropped 42 percent, with the greatest gains in states where governors accepted Medicaid expansion money. If we want to see those gains continue, we should push forward with Medicaid expansion, not gut the program.
In addition to expanding the coverage provided through programs such as Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, placed restrictions on private insurers so they could not deny necessary care to patients. These reforms included requiring that pediatric care, preventive care, emergency room visits and pre-existing conditions be covered.
Under the Senate Republican health care plan, though, these reforms could largely disappear. The bill would let states allow insurers to decide whether to cover essential health benefits — mental-health care and prescription drug coverage — currently mandated by the Affordable Care Act. This would weaken protections for veterans with pre-existing conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, or any other condition, and lead to steep increases in medical costs. This is unacceptable.
This health care bill is horrible policy and bad for all Mainers. The Senate Republican plan would see 117,900 Mainers would lose coverage. The loss of Medicaid coverage for 62,400 Mainers would harm Maine seniors, children and people with disabilities.
On top of that, this bill is the worst backward step for veteran’s health care in history. Why would we want to increase the number of uninsured veterans and make it easier for insurance companies to charge more for coverage for veterans with pre-existing conditions?
I am proud of every service members I had the privilege of serving with in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and here at home. I will stand up for their right to accessible, affordable health care — which should be every American’s right. I hope you will join me.
Adam Cote of Sanford is a 20-year veteran of the Maine Army National Guard who served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, a renewable energy entrepreneur, and a Democratic candidate for governor.