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Affordable Care Act Q&A: Most veterans don't need exchange

There's a reason the national health insurance debate doesn't include much about the men and women who served in the military. The new exchange doesn't apply to them.

But it's easy to see why those who qualify for a wide range of health care benefits through the Veterans Health Administration would be curious.

The system is extensive and is operated by federal agencies, much like the online exchange being operated in Florida and 35 other states.

The Tampa Tribune's Health Care Q&A has clarified the differences for many vets during the past few months, and we share some of those answers here.

To see the entire archive of health care exchange questions and answers, go to tbo.com/list/healthcare/qa/.

Q: The VA clinic in Zephyrhills serves as my primary doctor. They also provide my prescriptions and fulfill my medical needs. Do I still need to sign up for the health insurance exchange? If not, how can I verify my VA medical so I won't be accessed a penalty? Glen from Zephyrhills

Answer: The Affordable Care Act mandate that kicks in Jan. 1 requires most Americans to have health insurance.

A vast majority of the nation — including military veterans who have access to VA health care — are good to go. You already have health insurance, and it covers your essential medical and prescription drug needs.

The health exchange exists for people without other access to insurance. The ongoing sign-up period allows them to shop and compare commercial insurance plans available in their community.

Your federal income tax filing for 2014 will be where you will be asked to specifically proclaim your coverage. The Internal Revenue Service hasn't said yet what that question will look like on the tax form. And they have time, as the reporting won't take place until the tax season in early 2015.

Q: I am a veteran and receive health care at Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. Will I be required under the Affordable Care Act to purchase health insurance? Ward from Tampa

Q: I'm currently getting my health care via the VA. Does that exempt me from having to get Obamacare? Jack from Hudson

Answer: Veterans are a big part of the Tampa area community. Tampa's James A. Haley and St. Petersburg's Bay Pines are two of the nation's busiest Veterans Health Administration hospitals.

The men and women being treated there, or at any other place within the Veterans Health Administration, do not have to enroll for the Health Insurance Marketplace, or exchange, according to an August update from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

That includes those covered by the Veterans Health Administration, VA Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), the VA Spina Bifida Health Care Program or TRICARE.

“If you are enrolled in VA health care, you do not need to take any additional steps to meet the health care law coverage standards,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement.

A website, va.gov/aca, has been set up to clarify questions veterans may have about the Affordable Care Act. That includes explaining that there will be no change to benefits or out-of-pocket costs in 2014.

An estimated 8.3 million American veterans were enrolled in the VA health system in 2010, making more than 80 million outpatient visits at facilities, including Haley and Bay Pines.

But the agency estimates another 1.3 million eligible veterans are without health insurance.

Those veterans who meet the eligibility requirements are being urged to apply now, before the Affordable Care Act's Jan. 1 deadline.

“VA encourages eligible veterans who are not enrolled in VA's health care system to take advantage of the world-class care we provide to the men and women who have served this nation in uniform,” Shinseki said.

To apply for VA health care, visit va.gov/health benefits/enroll, call (877) 222-8387 or visit a local VA health care facility.

There is no enrollment fee, monthly premium or deductible for this coverage.

Some veterans have out-of-pocket costs for co-payments, treatments or medications, according to the VA health system website.

Veterans who do not qualify for the system and do not have access to affordable health insurance through a job or relative can apply for a policy on the health insurance exchange at healthcare.gov.

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