Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– The U.S. Senate today approved U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-South Carolina) amendment to the defense authorization bill making members of the National Guard and Reserves eligible to enroll in the military health care system TRICARE. The vote in the Senate was 70-25.
Members of the guard and reserves, regardless of their activation status, would be eligible to enroll in TRICARE for a modest annual premium regardless of their deployment status. Premiums would be about $530/year for individual coverage and $1,860/year for families. The government would also cover a portion of the health care premiums for those reservists and their families who opt to maintain their private health care coverage when they are called to active duty.
“I’m pleased the Senate agreed to this important change in the benefits package for members of the Guard and Reserve,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It was an overwhelming vote in support of giving our reservists better health care benefits. We’ve got more work to do before this becomes law, but this was definitely a big step in the right direction.”
“We’re calling upon the Guard and Reserve at the same tempo level we did during World War II,” said Graham. “On a percentage basis, it’s even greater. So now is the time to increase benefits for Guard and Reserve members.”
When fully phased in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the provision would assist more than 300,000 reservists and their family members. CBO estimates the costs of the benefit at $5.4 billion over the next 5 years, about one-half of one percent of the entire Department of Defense budget.
Graham said that in Iraq Guardsman and Reservists have rotated with the active-duty forces, increasing the reserve component share of the total U.S. forces to more than 40 percent. The reserves have also been charged with taking control of the entire peacekeeping mission in the Balkans.
“Better health care benefits will help our recruiting, readiness and retention efforts,” said Graham. “They need it and I think based upon what they have been asked to do, particularly since 9/11, they’ve earned it. We’re going to continue to fight for better benefits for them.”
“Guardsmen and Reservists are citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “Increasingly they are being called up to duty, taken away from their work and families, and being sent to far-away lands for long tours of duty. We need to ensure the benefits they are receiving are equal to the sacrifice they are making to protect our country and interests around the world.”
The Senate will now go to conference with the House of Representatives to reconcile the differing versions of the legislation.