White House Backpedals on Requiring Private Insurance to Pay for Military Injuries

The Obama White House showed every sign yesterday of backing down on a controversial proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who suffered service-related disabilities and injuries.

The proposal, a plan to require private insurance companies to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs in such cases, was discussed at the White House Monday in a meeting the President had with David K. Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion.

And on Tuesday — after condemnations of the proposal by Rehbein and the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Committee — the White House was backpedaling.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Tuesday that the Obama administration was not committed to the controversial veterans’ health care proposal after all. The apparent retreat from the President’s top spokesman came twenty-four hours after Rehbein and other heads of veterans’ organization came away from a meeting with the President convinced that he was indeed committed to it. This clearly angred them, and they made it clear to the press.

“It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," Rehbein told reporters after the meeting. Rehbein, described as visibly angered as he emerged from the meeting, added that Obama told him “he is looking to generate $540 million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”

Rehbein’s complaint against Obama’s plan for veterans was echoed by Rep. Steve Buyer (R.-Ind.), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. In his words, “It is an outrageous notion that disabled veterans who have sacrificed their well-being in defense of our freedom should be responsible for paying for treatment of their injuries.”

Buyer, himself a veteran of the first Gulf War, vowed to lead a fight against the Obama measure on veterans. He called on “my fellow veterans, the organizations that represent them, and any fair-minded citizen [to] let President Obama know they stand firmly against this proposal.”

At the regular press briefing at the White House Tuesday, Major Garrett of Fox News cited criticism of the measure requiring third party insurance companies to pay for combat-related injuries, noting that “it’s never happened before,” and asking why the administration felt it was a good idea.

On this one, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs clearly danced around and seemed to be moving away from the firm commitment to the proposal that Rehbein and heads of ten other veterans organizations got from the meeting with Obama.

“Let me not make the case for a decision that this administration hasn’t made yet,” Gibbs said, “regarding the final disposition or decision on third-party billing as it relates to service-related injuries.”

Pressed by Garrett as to whether it was on the table, Gibbs replied: “But no decisions have been made. Let me give this answer to — and I know that the veterans, the VSOs, the Veterans Service Organizations that were here yesterday to meet with the President, the VA chief and the Chief of Staff, who will return later in the week to meet again with the Chief of Staff, can have confidence that the budget the President has proposed represents an historic increase in discretionary spending to take care of our wounded warriors, those that have been sent off to war, have protected our freedom and have come back wounded.”

Gibbs went on to point out that there has been an 11% increase in discretionary spending in the Veterans Administration budget, that this was historic, and Obama “ takes very seriously the needs of our wounded warriors that have given so much to protect our freedom on battlefields throughout the world.”

Not a complete retreat, but clearly, a fast dance.