Jun 26 2006

Graham Pushes Health Care, Retirement and Chain of Command Changes in Senate Defense Bill

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today announced the Senate has approved an amendment that will revamp the retirement system and further improve access to the military healthcare system, TRICARE, for Reservists and Guardsmen. The amendment was offered by Graham, along with Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) and Hillary Clinton (D-New York), to the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill. The bill passed 96-0. “Guardsmen and Reservists are citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “Increasingly they are being called up, 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.” Graham has taken the lead role in championing expanded TRICARE access in the Senate. This latest amendment builds on the success Graham had last year when Congress overhauled the TRICARE system, greatly expanding access for members of the Selected Reserve. Under the expansion passed last year, all members of the Selected Reserve are eligible to enroll in the military health care program for a monthly premium based on their service and employment status. The amendment passed by the Senate last week improves this system by reducing the co-payment for those who have not been deployed, are eligible for other private insurance, but want continuous access to TRICARE. It reduces the cost share for the Reservist from 85% to 75% with the government paying the remainder. Employees of small businesses would become eligible for a 50/50 cost share under Tier 2. In addition, to provide further savings to Reservists, Senator Graham introduced a separate bill allowing members to pay their TRICARE premiums on a pre-tax basis like all other federal employees. “I will continue to work to improve benefits available to members of the Guard and Reserve,” said Graham. “The nation will continue to need their services in fighting the War on Terror.” Another significant provision included in the amendment would lower the retirement age for members of the United States National Guard and Reserve based on the number of days the member is called to active duty. The retirement age requirement would be reduced by 3 months for every 90 days of continuous active service a Reservist performs in support of a contingency operation or in a war zone. The minimum age to collect retirement pay is set at 50. This provision is retroactive to September 2001. “Reservists and Guardsmen have been deployed at historic rates,” said Graham. “Rewarding them by allowing them to retire earlier than the current system allows is a tremendous incentive for retention. The incentive for early retirement combined with more affordable health care will dramatically improve the quality of life for our Reserve community and their families. I am proud these two provisions have received unanimous, bipartisan support.” Graham noted that the Senate also approved an amendment he authored to give military commanders a more fair and efficient means of discipline on the battlefield. The provision clarifies the Uniform Code of Military Justice to place civilian contractors accompanying the Armed Forces in the field under court-martial jurisdiction during contingency operations as well as in times of declared war. The Defense Authorization Bill approves more than $517 billion in budget authority for national security and defense programs at the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy. The bill includes more than $50 billion in funding for ongoing operations in the War on Terror. The bill will now go to conference with the House of Representatives. #### TRICARE System Under Current Law Tier 1: Members of the Selected Reserve who are called to active duty qualify for TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS). Under this program a Reservist who agrees to stay in the Service accumulates one year of TRS coverage for every 90 days of active duty service. Monthly premiums during the years of accumulated eligibility are only 28 percent of the program cost. The government picks up the remaining 72 percent. As has always been the case, coverage is free of charge while on active duty. The system permits accumulation of earned periods of coverage for frequently deployed personnel. In addition, Reservist’s family members receive 6 months of transitional coverage following the death of the Reserve member, if the member dies while in an inactive status. Tier 2: Members of the Selected Reserve who are not called to active duty, and who otherwise do not qualify for health insurance due to unemployment or lack of employer-provided coverage, are eligible to enroll in TRICARE for a 50 percent cost-sharing premium. The government will pay the remaining 50 percent. Tier 3: Members of the Selected Reserve who do not fit into either of the above categories (have not been deployed and have access to other private health insurance) but would like to participate continuously in TRICARE are eligible to do so for an 85 percent cost share. Employers are allowed and encouraged to contribute to the reservist’s share. The government contributes 15 percent of the cost.