Senator plans new legislation to address lack of health insurance for guards and reservists

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, speaks May 3, 2022 with members of the New Hampshire National Guard’s 12th Civil Support Team at Pease Air National Guard Base , NH (Victoria Nelson/US Air National Guard)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said she plans to introduce new legislation to expand health care coverage for military reservists, including some 60,000 National Guard members who do not have medical health insurance when not on military service.

The bill would expand free access to TRICARE coverage to all National Guard and Reserve service members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Navy who are not now eligible for free health care only in certain active duty military statuses – usually when called to active duty for more than 30 consecutive days. In addition to the 60,000 National Guard soldiers who lack private health insurance, about 70,000 other reservists lack health coverage, according to members of Baldwin’s staff.

Baldwin called the issue a combat readiness issue during a Senate Appropriations Committee defense subgroup hearing on Tuesday. She said extending free medical coverage to all military reservists would only result in a roughly 3% increase in the Pentagon’s budget for reserve component personnel, citing information provided by Defense Health. Agency.

“The Defense Health Agency has formally recognized that health care coverage is very much a force-wide readiness issue,” Baldwin said at the hearing when she announced her plan to law.

However, the senator did not provide details on her plan and the timing of her bill’s introduction was “yet to be determined,” Baldwin spokesman Eli Rosen wrote in an email on Wednesday. mail.

“Sen. Baldwin’s legislation will ensure that every service member receives health care, including addressing financial barriers to mental health, helping improve service member preparedness, and providing service incentives and when hiring service members,” Rosen wrote.

The lack of universal health care coverage for National Guard troops has long been a key issue for Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau. He said on Tuesday the issue has only grown in prominence as Guard forces have become busier than ever over the past two years – responding to a myriad of issues including the coronavirus pandemic, the unrest civilians across the country, increased natural disasters, and support for U.S. Border Patrol operations. along the southern border of the United States.

“When I look at what we’ve asked our guards and reservists to do over the last two years, you know, we’re talking about combat, the force has to be ready to go. [at any time]“Hokanson told senators. “You watch [the coronavirus] and our requirement to have guards and reservists take up duty almost immediately – one of the key things is that they have to be medically ready to do so.

The general said Congress should take steps to ensure part-time troops have permanent health care options “and can afford it.”

“It’s really important,” he said. “It will have a huge impact on our preparation.”

Members of the National Guard and military reservists receive what is called “on duty” coverage whenever they are on duty, including exercise weekends, which insures them against illness or injuries sustained while in uniform. But these troops do not have access to the free comprehensive medical coverage provided by TRICARE that active duty troops receive, except when they are also on active duty for at least 30 days. Some Guardsmen and reservists are eligible for military health benefits, but must pay monthly premiums and a copay when they are off active duty for 30 days, according to TRICARE, the health care provider of the American army.

In the past, Pentagon officials have said that most part-time soldiers would receive medical coverage from their non-military employers, but some Guardsmen and reservists do not receive health insurance from their civilian jobs or have no other job.

Rosen said Baldwin’s bill would seek to end all medical costs for US troops, regardless of service status.

Last year, House lawmakers introduced similar legislation.

Reps. Andy Kim, DN.J., and Trent Kelly, R-Miss., introduced the Health Care for Our Troops Act in May 2021, which aimed to provide TRICARE coverage with no premiums or co-pays to all members and reservists of the National Guard.

Although their bill has yet to receive a vote, Kelly staffers said Wednesday that it remains a priority for the congressman. Kelly is a Major General in the Mississippi National Guard who served 36 years.

It also remains a top priority for Kim, the congressman’s spokesman, Forrest Rilling, said Wednesday. Kim hopes the measure will be included in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, the annual bill that sets policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon, Rilling said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Kelly last year during a House Armed Services Committee hearing that he supported lawmakers’ efforts to expand medical coverage for members and reservists of the National Guard.

“The health, welfare and safety of our force is of the utmost importance to me,” Austin said during the hearing on June 24, 2021. “I would welcome any initiative that would allow us to provide better health care, more effective health care, to all parts of our service.”

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