Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., says she will introduce legislation to expand health care coverage for U.S. military reservists.
The bill would give free access to TRICARE, the military’s health care provider, to all National Guard and Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps reserve members.
Currently, these personnel are only eligible for free health care during certain active-duty military statuses.
Most Guard and Reserve soldiers must serve more than 30 consecutive days on active duty before getting free TRICARE.
Baldwin’s staff say the proposal could impact about 60,000 Guard troops and 70,000 reservists without private health insurance.
“Sen. Baldwin’s legislation will ensure that every service member has health care, including addressing financial barriers to mental health, in turn, helping improve readiness of service members and providing incentives for service and hiring service members,” Baldwin’s office said in an email.
The NGAUS considers zero-cost TRICARE ensuring reserve component medical readiness the association’s No. 1 legislative priority.
Last week, Baldwin called the situation a combat readiness problem for the military.
Citing Defense Health Agency projections, Baldwin added fixing the issue would increase the Pentagon’s budget for reserve component personnel approximately 3%.
“The Defense Health Agency is on record agreeing that health care coverage is really a readiness issue for the total force,” Baldwin said during a June 7 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel, where she announced the bill.
Baldwin didn’t describe the idea’s details further, and a June 8 email from her team notes the date for introducing the provision has “yet to be determined.”
The Wisconsin senator’s office added her bill would erase medical costs for U.S. troops no matter their duty status.
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the National Guard Bureau chief, has long championed extending health care coverage to reservists militarywide.
Last Tuesday, Hokanson said the topic’s relevancy has grown as the Guard shoulders more federal and state demands.
Hokanson said Congress should create permanent and affordable health care options for part-time personnel.
Baldwin’s legislation resembles a similar effort Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., and Rep. Trent Kelly, R.-Miss., crafted in May 2021.
The Healthcare for Our Troops Act would enable TRICARE coverage without co-pays and premiums for all reservists militarywide.
Active-duty troops receive full medical coverage for free from TRICARE, a benefit their part-time counterparts only get under certain circumstances.
“Line of duty” coverage protects Guard and military reserve members from illnesses and injuries when they’re on duty, including drill weekends.
This administrative process involves an officer determining a soldier’s duty status at the time of disability, injury, illness or death.
During “line of duty” investigations, troops may pay health care costs out of pocket until their officers make a duty status determination.
And these people must often serve at least 30 days on active duty before accessing full TRICARE benefits.
Without meeting this benchmark, many Guard and reserve personnel pay TRICARE co-pays and monthly premiums.
Pentagon officials have said civilian employers can give part-time soldiers the health care they seek.
Yet these service members frequently lack work health insurance or don’t have careers outside the military.
– By Mark Hensch