NU Online News Service, Jan. 17, 12:57 p.m. – The Department of Veterans Affairs says it hopes to use a “private health plan” to help veterans buy VA care through the Medicare managed care program.

The department has a legal obligation to care for veterans with military-related disabilities, poor veterans, and veterans with designated problems, such as blindness or severe spinal cord injuries.

But more than half of applications come from veterans in the lowest priority group, “Priority Group 8,” who have relatively high incomes and no military-related health problems. Many older veterans in Priority Group 8 have been turning to the VA in recent years because the VA, unlike the basic Medicare program, provides prescription drug benefits.

The Bush administration has proposed a fiscal 2004 budget that would provide $64 billion in funding, up 7.7% from the fiscal 2003 budget, the VA says.

Until the VA can work out an arrangement to tap into the Medicare program, it will have to stretch the limited funds available by suspending enrollment of Priority Group 8 veterans, the department says.