New program reduces co-payments for some veterans

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Some veterans are benefiting from a reduction in co-payments for treatment they receive at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.
   The recent change is an attempt to make health care more affordable for veterans who live in areas of the nation with high costs of living. The new system has created two new veteran priority groups from one original classification. The newly formed priority group "seven" is made up of veterans who have no service connected injuries or disabilities.
   Veterans in the new priority seven grouping have incomes that exceed the VA's national income threshold, but fall below the income level set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
   Unmarried veterans must have an annual income over $24,644 for 2003 in order to meet the VA's national income thresholds, while veterans with one dependent must make more than $29,576 in the same year.
   Anthony Principi, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, issued a statement highlighting the reasoning behind establishing lower co-payments for the sect of America's veterans. He believes the new classifications system makes it easier for the VA to provide veterans with a more streamlined health care system.
   "This enables the VA to cushion the effects of co-payments for some veterans in high cost areas, while still keeping our priorities focused on those with service-connected conditions," Principi said.
   According to officials at the James H. Quillen Medical Center in Johnson City, only a small percentage of the health care facility's patients will benefit from the reduction in co-payments.
   Van Gambrel is the business office manager at the hospital, and he believes the reduction in co-payments will be felt minimally at the Johnson City facility, where many Carter County veterans receive medical treatment.
   "It will impact veterans that are below the HUD threshold for their area. It varies by zip code and by area. The areas that have a higher cost of living are going to be effected the most by this," Gambrel said. "Right now about 20 percent of the patients at our facility are in that category, so you can see it is not going to have that large of an effect on us."
   Gambrel said those patients that fall within the classification will now have to pay for only 20 percent of the bills they accumulate while hospitalized at the VA Medical Center.
   Outpatient services, and prescription medications will not be effected by the reduction in hospitalization co-payments. Gambrel added that the facility does not anticipate having to recover any loss of revenue as a result of the reduction in co-payments.