Wes Hickman/Kevin Bishop
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) announced today the Senate passed a provision to improve the healthcare benefits of National Guard and Reserve personnel by allowing them to enroll in TRICARE, the military health program. South Carolina has about 30,000 Guardsman and Reservists.
Under current law, members of the Guard and Reserve can only enroll in TRICARE when called to active duty.
The Graham provision would allow Guardsmen and Reservist to enroll themselves and their family in TRICARE at any time, assuring continuity of health coverage and access to the family’s doctors when the service member is activated. The premium would be low, would reduce out of pocket expenses for the reservist, and would be an incentive for employers to hire Guardsmen and Reservists.
“This provision allows every Guard and Reserve family to have continuous access to high-quality, affordable health care,” said Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. “This was a strong statement by the United States Senate that it is time to upgrade the benefits of Guardsmen and Reservists. Less than a week ago we introduced this concept and I’m pleased the Senate voted to pass this measure by an overwhelming 85-10 vote.”
Graham noted the provision would help National Guard and Reserve recruitment and retention efforts. The cost of the health benefit is $7 billion over the next five years, one-tenth of one percent of the military budget.
“Since 9-11 there has been a seven hundred percent increase in the use of Guard and Reserve personnel,” said Graham. “We have not changed the benefits for these essential military personnel. It’s time we reward them for their service and patriotism, and make service to their country more attractive and fair.
“I appreciate the strong support of my Republican and Democratic colleagues in pushing this provision through,” said Graham. “I worked with Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tom Daschle among others in what was truly a bipartisan effort.”
The Graham provision will be added to the Senate’s Defense Authorization bill. Graham however held out little hope the provision would pass Congress this year and become law.
“The strong showing of support in the Senate will send a clear message to the Pentagon and to the appropriators that we are serious about change,” Graham said. “We want to improve healthcare for Reservists and Guardsmen and this will help us secure funding in the future. I feel very good about our chances of pushing this into law next year.”