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Bill Would Open TRICARE to Guard Federal Workers

04-16-24 WR Health Care WEBSITE
04-16-24 WR Health Care WEBSITE
Washington Report

More than 100,000 drilling National Guardsmen and Reservists who are full-time federal employees would be eligible to purchase TRICARE Reserve Select health care under legislation introduced in both the House and Senate last week.

Most drilling Guardsmen and Reservists have been able to buy low-cost TRS for more than 15 years.

But the 2008 law that created the current program excluded these service members from the more-expensive Federal Employees Health Benefits program.

This exclusion includes the Guard and Reserve's dual-status technicians.

And while a provision in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act lifts this prohibition, the change does not take effect until 2030.

The Servicemember Healthcare Freedom Act of 2024 would allow federal employees to enroll in TRS once the legislation is enacted.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and co-sponsored by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., Tina Smith, D-Minn., and John Fetterman, D-Pa., in the Senate.

Reps. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., and Andy Kim, D-N.J., introduced the measure in the House.

Kim is the Democratic co-chair of the House National Guard and Reserve Caucus.

The legislation affects roughly 113,000 Guardsmen and Reservists, according to a fact sheet from Blumenthal’s office.

This figure includes approximately 67,000 Guard and Reserve dual-status technicians, who must be drilling service members to maintain their full-time employment.

Cost is often the big difference between TRS and FEHBP.

For example, the widely used FEHBP Blue Cross Basic Option costs $150 a month for a single adult, per Blumenthal’s office. The same TRS coverage is $51.95 a month.

The average family of four spent $657.04 each month on health care though FEHBP last year, according to the same fact sheet. Family plans through TRS cost $246.87 a month.

That is nearly a $5,000 difference between both health care plans over the course of one year.

TRS also provides continuity of care during service members' mobilizations and demobilizations.

"Servicemembers and their families make sacrifices every day in service to our country, and we have an obligation to make sure they have access to affordable, quality healthcare," Blumenthal said in an April 11 press release.

"With the Servicemember Healthcare Freedom Act, we provide servicemembers the ability to choose which care plans best suit their needs, ensuring they are able to receive essential care while avoiding costly plans and expensive out-of-pocket costs," he added.

NGAUS — which counts TRS among its most significant legislative accomplishments and has long advocated to extend the program's eligibility to Guardsmen who work full time for the federal government — strongly supports this new legislation.

"Guardsmen have an unparalleled commitment to serving our country," retired Maj. Gen. Francis M. McGinn, the NGAUS president, said in the April 11 press release.

"Those who are also federal employees should not be penalized and forced into a more expensive health care plan," he added.

— By John Goheen