Every day, I go to work at the VA in Tuscaloosa to conduct life-saving studies to help our veterans. I’ve seen the health challenges they face with drug and alcohol addiction; my work looks at ways to improve care options for those battling addiction. I also know the personal health toll cancer can take, having lost my mom, stepdad, aunt and two uncles to the disease and from receiving my own cancer diagnosis in 2015. Our lawmakers need to know they can help more people, including our veterans, access life-saving care. They can start by closing the Medicaid coverage gap in Alabama, which would help four in 10 uninsured veterans gain health coverage.
There are several reasons why veterans are more likely to fall into the coverage gap after they complete their service to our country. They often work jobs in the trades and hospitality industries that don’t provide health insurance with employment, while being higher risk for complex injuries and health conditions. And some veterans are not eligible for or cannot access care at the VA hospital. In fact, a congressional study done in 2014 found only 40 percent of veterans were enrolled in the VA health system. Some veterans have privacy concerns with VA services or don’t want to feel like a “burden.” VAs can also be hard to reach for veterans who live in rural areas, which is an additional hardship when a family is already dealing with the crisis of cancer. If veterans can get to a VA hospital, the available care is still limited. For example, the VA where I work in Tuscaloosa doesn’t offer comprehensive cancer treatment. Additionally, the VA can always cut special programs due to cost and budgetary needs. While I don’t claim to represent the VA, I am in a unique position as an employee to have seen some of these issues first-hand.
Veterans’ spouses and kids have also sacrificed for our country, but they often don’t qualify for VA assistance. Closing the coverage gap ensures they have reliable health coverage too. Research has illustrated that states that have expanded Medicaid have helped more children get coverage and attained better prenatal and maternal health. No matter how you parse it, closing the Medicaid gap is good for families.
Today, I want Governor Kay Ivey to hear that message. She has the power to close the coverage gap in Alabama. Too many veterans will continue to be affected if we don’t act. That’s why we at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network put up billboards around Montgomery featuring a veteran in Alabama.
Gov. Ivey, we need you to close the coverage gap so 220,000 more Alabamians – many of them veterans – can access life-saving care. They’ve earned it.
This piece originally ran as a guest opinion piece on AL.com on July 27, 2023.