Bipartisan legislation would help ensure that every National Guard soldier and airman has access to health care.
The Healthcare for our Troops Act was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., and Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss. Kelly is a member of the Mississippi National Guard.
If the bill becomes law, it would fulfill one of NGAUS’s top priorities for the legislative year. NGAUS strongly supports the legislation.
“Americans who wear the uniform and protect our nation should not be without health care. It’s that simple,” said Kim. “We owe our Reservists and National Guard so much, and this bill fulfills a basic bipartisan promise: that we will be there for them as they are there for us every day to keep our country safe.”
The Healthcare for our Troops Act is co-sponsored by the co-chairs of the National Guard and Reserve Caucus, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss. Palazzo is also a member of the Mississippi National Guard.
The bill also has support from key leaders on both sides of the aisle, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who chairs the Republican House Conference.
If passed, the bill would give members of the National Guard and reserves access to no-fee health care through TRICARE Reserve Select, which provides medical and dental coverage.
Providing no-fee health care to members of the National Guard is also the top legislative priority of Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. He has repeatedly called for Congress to provide such a benefit for the Guard.
According to officials, an estimated 130,000 Guardsmen don’t have private health insurance.
“You would think members of the force that America counts on to be always ready, always there would all have medical coverage but that’s just not the case,” said retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, NGAUS president. “Over the past year, National Guard soldiers and airmen have served on the front lines of the nation’s worst public health crisis in a century without coverage. This legislation will make sure that never happens again. We applaud it.”
In addition to expanding TRICARE Reserve Select, the bill would help increase military readiness by ensuring access to needed physicals for no-notice deployments, provide incentives for small businesses to hire members of the Guard and reserves, and eliminate statutory language that excludes some service members who are also federal employees from TRICARE eligibility.
Robinson said extending health care to all of the Guard is a great recruiting and retention tool.
“It’s good for the Guard. It’s good for our soldiers and airmen. And it’s good for the nation,” he said.
The bill would also require a study on eliminating annual physicals during drills and replacing them with forms that can be completed by civilian providers, potentially saving more than $162 million in contracted medical assessments each year. And it would fix a parity gap for members of the reserve component who retire early, making them eligible for TRICARE upon receipt of retirement pay.
“From being deployed nonstop, protecting our nation’s capital, and handling pandemic relief efforts, we witnessed an unprecedented use of our military,” Kelly said. “Current bureaucratic policies prevent some of our service members from having the same health care benefits as their counterparts on active-duty.”
He said the bill would ensure no military member will have to worry about paying for medical bills. Kelly said providing that care is “a readiness issue that is easily fixed” and said Guardsmen deserve to have access to preventive and routine health care.
Ryan said he could not be more proud of the work the Guard has done in the past year. But pandemic, disaster, civil unrest and other missions take their toll.
“This legislation represents a huge step forward in making sure our citizen-soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines not only have access to the health care they need to take care of themselves, but also to do their jobs,” he said.
Palazzo said the bill would ensure Guard members are not over-paying for the care they deserve.
“I can attest to how this legislation improves TRICARE by increasing affordability and retention rates,” he said. “This year, we saw our National Guardsmen and reservists drop everything to serve this country. They have had our backs, this bill helps us have theirs.”
In addition to NGAUS, the bill also has the support of the Military Officers Association of America, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the U.S., Association of the U.S. Army, Chief Warrant Officers Association of the U.S. Coast Guard, Naval Enlisted Reserve Association, Reserve Organization of America, Air Force Sergeants Association, VoteVets and the Wounded Warrior Project.