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Obama: Healthcare Reform Won’t Impact VA, TRICARE

In ongoing discussions about healthcare reform, President Barack Obama offered assurance to those receiving medical care through TRICARE or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): Your benefits are safe.

Eligibility for healthcare under VA or TRICARE “will not be affected by our efforts at broader health-care reform,” Obama told military reporters at the White House on 4 August.

Obama said he also made that point clear after meeting with the American Legion’s National Commander, Dave Rehbein, and Executive Director, Peter Gaytan.

“I want to make sure that message gets out to our veterans,” the President said. “I think it’s very important to get the message out: If you are in the VA system and are happy with your care, great. We have no intention of changing your eligibility.”

While a new, national program won’t force anyone to change healthcare systems, Obama said it could offer benefits or geographic convenience that might make some veterans elect to join it. A national program “will actually give them more choices, more flexibility,” he said.

Obama cited problems in US healthcare delivery systems, which he said cost more than other countries’ programs and too often deliver less.

The VA “has probably made more progress than most systems out there in increasing quality” during the past 25 years, and could help shed light on better ways of delivering healthcare, he said.

But the cost of delivering that care is high, even at VA, and TRICARE consumes a big piece of the Defense Department’s budget, he said.

With the fiscal 2010 budget reflecting the largest VA funding increase in 30 years, Obama told American Legion leaders he is committed to ensuring that VA provides America’s veterans the highest-quality healthcare possible.

Meanwhile, he told reporters VA will increase its outreach to more veterans to make sure they’re aware of their medical benefits and other entitlements.

“Although there are hundreds of thousands of veterans who are using our services, we know there are hundreds of thousands more who may not know that benefits are available,” he said.

“And we are working really hard to make sure that every single veteran, not just our active force, but also National Guard and reservists, are aware of the benefits that are available to them.”

“Guiding them through that process, we think, is extraordinarily important.”