The House passed a law that automatically enrolls eligible veterans in VA health care on Thursday.
With 265 votes in favor and 163 against, the House approved the Ensuring Veterans' Smooth Transition Act. While 44 Republicans voted for the bill with Democrats, the vote fell primarily along party lines.
VA health benefits are currently only available to veterans who apply proactively. The legislation approved Thursday would require the department to automatically enroll veterans who meet existing eligibility requirements for VA health care instead.
In addition, the VA would need to offer veterans the option of opting out of coverage.
The bill would apply retroactively to veterans discharged 90 days before it becomes law, but it does not change eligibility for VA health benefits. The Senate must still vote on the bill before sending it to the president for signing.
Bill supporters hailed it as a common-sense measure to ease the transition from the military to civilian life.
The chairman of the veteran's policy panel, Mark Takano, stated on the House floor, "We recognize that leaving the military can be a stressful and hazardous experience for some veterans."
By streamlining the process, veterans can avoid missed opportunities for lifesaving care and avoid adding VA care later on.
Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 58,000 veterans would not be eligible for VA health care under the legislation.
The CBO anticipates that the legislation will cost about $3.1 billion over the next five years.
"Seamless enrollment in health insurance coverage" is one of the "goals" of the bill, the White House said in a statement last week.
Nevertheless, the White House worries that the proposal might have problems becoming law as written, adding that it looks forward to working out the issues with Congress.
GOP opponents said automatic enrollment could worsen VA health care, such as long wait times and staff shortages.