Military family members and retirees excluded from mental health care

While the military and veteran community continues important work to break the stigma around mental health treatment, a major hurdle for many who seek such treatment has been largely overlooked.

Military retirees and their family members – as well as family members of those still in uniform – may need mental health care for a wide range of reasons. Some may be service related issues. Some may be brought on by the stress of deploying a loved one or the long-term care demands assumed by family members of our country’s wounded warriors. Even more could come from a spike in pandemic-related mental health issues that extends far beyond the military.

Whatever the root cause, regular visits to a mental health care provider can pave the way to healing. But for many in this community, these tours don’t come cheap.

Co-payments for mental health care visits more than doubled for TRICARE users from 2017 to 2018. Some TRICARE Select plan retirees must pay $50 out of pocket for each visit – more than double the standard rate of numerous private sector plans and an increase of a $20 Copay on the TRICARE plan just five years ago. On average, federal employee health plans still only charge $20 for such visits.

Before blaming this increase on inflation or other broader economic factors, consider the reforms to the military health care system passed by Congress as part of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Although the law does not specifically address mental health care, TRICARE officials implementing the proposed reforms have categorized this treatment as “specialized care” – this means a military family now pays the same amount. out of pocket for a 45-minute counseling session than she would for neurosurgical care. to consult.

This practice is out of step with commercial health care plans and discourages military family members from seeking the care they may need, as it weighs several expensive sessions against other pressing financial needs. As families suffer from short-notice deployments and frequent moves, and military retirees begin to find their way after service, they shouldn’t be forced to make such a choice.

Fortunately, there is a solution: The Stop Copay Overpay Act would cap out-of-pocket costs for TRICARE beneficiaries seeking mental health care at the level of a copayment charge for primary care. It would do so without reducing the overall reimbursement to the provider, which means those providers would be less likely to drop TRICARE patients as they face increased demand for their services.

The Military Officers Association of America, or MOAA, has highlighted this issue as part of its annual advocacy campaign. Please join MOAA’s 350,000 members in calling on our legislators to pass the Stop Copay Overpay Act and ease the path to much-needed mental health support for military family members and retirees.

Karen Ruedisueli is the Director of Government Relations for Health Affairs for the Military Officers Association of America

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This article is an Op-Ed and as such the views expressed are those of the authors. If you would like to respond, or if you would like to submit an editorial on your own, please Kent Miller, Senior Editor of the Military Times.

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