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Column

Our veterans will benefit  under Medicaid expansion

This time of year, we are all reminded of the sacrifices made by the members of our armed forces. For those who made the ultimate sacrifice, the debt of gratitude is one we can never repay. But for those veterans who have returned home, we can show our thanks in many ways.

Most people assume the health needs of our veterans are met by the Veterans Administration – and indeed many veterans receive quality care thanks to our VA system. What most people don’t know that only about two-thirds of non-elderly veterans are eligible for VA health care.

When New Hampshire lawmakers consider the benefits of accepting federal funds to extend Medicaid, we must recognize the opportunity it presents for many of our younger veterans. Many younger vets have returned home to a poor economy, and they and their families are struggling financially. Many will qualify for health coverage under Medicaid if we take the federal funds that are offered for this purpose.

According to the Urban Institute, 1,500 uninsured veterans in New Hampshire may qualify for Medicaid if we accept the federal funds to expand our program to low-income adults. Harbor Homes in Nashua, which helps veterans facing homelessness, supports the extension of Medicaid because they know good health is critical to getting veterans back on their feet.

These are residents who have made a contribution to our nation and can continue to make a contribution to our nation as healthy and productive workers. Ensuring they have access to affordable health care is not so much to ask.

Another group that stands to benefit are young adults. New Hampshire can be proud it was one of the first states to allow college students and later all young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance through age 26. In fact, this is now national policy.

An estimated 3.1 million young people have taken advantage of the new rule and a recent RAND Corporation study found that since the law was passed, medical insurance protected at least half a million young adults from financial ruin when they needed emergency room care for broken bones, poisoning or traumatic brain injury.

Some young adults are excluded from this benefit, however, and those are students and other young people whose parents cannot afford health insurance. In some cases, New Hampshire college students are adding health insurance premium payments to their student loan debt because insurance is required for enrollment in our university system.

Extending Medicaid to these young adults makes a great deal of sense. Young adults are among the cheapest to insure and protecting them from additional financial burdens in the event of illness or accident gives them a better start as they enter the working world.

So we have one group that already made a major contribution to our state and to our nation, and another group that’s just starting down that path. It is a smart investment to protect them both with health insurance.

As a nurse, I know how important preventive care can be. It’s an old truism that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Maybe we need to change that to: a penny of prevention is worth a dollar of cure.

New Hampshire has an opportunity to accept $2.5 billion from the federal government over the next seven years to extend our Medicaid program to as many as 58,000 low-income workers and families. Whether they are veterans, college students, carpenters, landscapers or store clerks, they need and deserve the security of health insurance to be at their most productive.

There is no good reason to delay. Federal funding will remain at 100 percent through 2016 before it gradually phases down to 90 percent. Every year we delay, we forgo needed funds to help cover hard-working families. This is an opportunity we should seize today – for our veterans, for our students, for our state.

Sen. Peggy Gilmour, a Democrat, represents District 12 which includes Greenville, Mason, New Ipswich and Rindge.

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