Federal Appeals Court Rules Lifetime Medical Care for Veterans Not Obligatory
A "divided, reluctant" federal appeals court yesterday ruled that the government is not required to provide free lifetime health care to World War II and Korean War veterans despite promises by military recruiters, the AP/Nando Times reports. The 9-4 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said the government was not legally obligated to provide free health care to veterans because the promises made by military recruiters were not supported by law. The majority opinion stated that the law, at most, allowed veterans space-available treatment at military bases, not free health insurance for life. Although the government acknowledged that recruiters promised lifetime health care, the Defense Department successfully argued that the promises were not valid because they were not explicitly mandated by law. The court said that it could "do no more than hope Congress will make good on the promises made in good faith" to soldiers who entered the service between 1941 and 1956. In 1998, a federal judge in Jacksonville, Fla., ruled against the veterans, but in February 2001 a three-judge panel ruled in their favor. George Day, a veteran and attorney for the plaintiffs, said that he would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The case seeks to recoup the money older veterans spent on health care between 1995 -- when the Pentagon issued regulations guaranteeing coverage by civilian doctors only for veterans under age 65, contending that veterans over 65 were eligible for Medicare -- and 2001, when legislation was enacted to provide free health care for all elderly veterans with 20 years of service (Anderson, AP/Nando Times, 11/20).
In related news, a report released yesterday by the General Accounting Office finds that record-keeping practices at some military hospitals are "so bad" that millions of dollars in insurance payments may be lost and hundreds of patients may be using the Social Security numbers of deceased people to get free health care, the AP/Washington Post reports. The audit, which reviewed military hospital records in Georgia, Virginia and Texas, also found "potentially fraudulent uses" of government credit cards and insufficient records of prescription drug inventories and usages. According to Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who requested the GAO investigation with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), millions of dollars may have been "unnecessarily spent" on ineligible patients and wasted pharmaceuticals and products. "We must ensure that the Pentagon is held to the same level of scrutiny as other government agencies, especially when dealing with health care for our military personnel," Schakowsky said. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the Pentagon is "moving to correct the problems," adding that new rules are being drafted to "hold hospital officials accountable" for failure to collect insurance payments and to prevent the use of false military identification to obtain free health care. According to the Pentagon inspector general, last year approximately 5% of the 8.4 million Department of Defense beneficiaries were either ineligible or have incorrect data in their records and the eligibility of another 10% could not be verified (Pace, AP/Washington Post, 11/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.