Senate Approves Bill To Extend Tricare Coverage To Reservists, National Guard Members Not on Active Duty
The Senate on Wednesday voted 70-25 to approve an amendment to the fiscal year 2005 defense authorization bill (S 2400) that would give National Guard and Reserve members access to the military's Tricare health care system even when they are not on active duty, CQ Today reports. Currently, reservists only receive coverage when they are on active duty and for a limited period afterward. Under the measure, reservists would pay 28% of the health care premiums, and the federal government would pay the remainder (Donnelly, CQ Today, 6/2). Reservists' dependents also would be eligible for health coverage under the amendment. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), said extending full-time health care coverage to reservists would help improve recruiting and retention among guard and reserve troops. The measure would cost $700 million next year, and $14.2 billion over a decade, CongressDaily reports. The bill's sponsors say that the cost of the bill would amount to about one-fifth of 1% of the total defense budget and add that it could pay for itself over time by attracting and retaining skilled National Guard and reserve members (Hess/Goode, CongressDaily, 6/3).
Senate Committee on Armed Services Chair John Warner (R-Va.) said the bill is too expensive and would serve as a disincentive for members of the military to join the regular forces. "We're talking about a very, very significant, permanent entitlement for the Reserves, which is extremely costly," Warner said. Clinton said that the issue was a priority in Congress "because it's one of those issues we hear about on a weekly basis" (CQ Today, 6/2). Daschle said that extending full-time health insurance to reservists is "the fair thing and the right thing to do." However, Senate Budget Committee Chair Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said expanding Tricare would be a "serious mistake," adding, "The primary responsibility for health care during the 28 days a month when a reservist isn't drilling should belong to his (civilian) employer" (CongressDaily, 6/3).