U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., continues to focus on TRICARE benefits for members of the National Guard and the Reserve.
Spano joined U.S. Reps. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., Virginia Foxx, R-NC, Mark Green, R-Tenn., and Harley Rouda, D-Calif., in sending a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro wanting to know about lapses in TRICARE benefits for National Guard and Reserve personnel and their families. Almost 20 other members of the U.S. House also signed the letter though Spano was the only member of the Florida delegation to do so.
“Lapses in coverage can have serious consequences for our soldiers and their families and can understandably detract from our soldiers’ focus on executing their mission,” the representatives wrote.
“Too often, our brave National Guard and Reserve personnel and their families experience issues accessing the health care benefits they earned serving our country — it’s unacceptable,” said Rouda. “The least we could do for our soldiers is to cut through the red tape and find out why these lapses in benefits are occurring. I look forward to reading the Comptroller General’s report and finding common-sense solutions to right these wrongs.”
“For the last two decades, our military has heavily relied on our National Guard. As our heroes go about fighting the war on terror, they shouldn’t have to worry about their TRICARE benefits lapsing while deployed—this is unacceptable on so many levels,” said Spano on Monday. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in this effort to get to the bottom of why these lapses are occurring and fix the problem in a bipartisan and swift manner.”
Back in November, Spano introduced the “TRICARE Fairness for National Guard and Reserve Retirees Act” with U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hi., as the cosponsor.
“The bill aligns the eligibility age for TRICARE Standard, Extra, and Prime with the age at which National Guard and Reserve personnel begin receiving their retired pay,” Spano’s office noted. “The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 lowered the retirement age for Reserve Component personnel from 60 to a lower age, but not below 50, based on active duty performance. However, the age reduction for retired pay eligibility for non-regular service did not reduce the eligibility age for health care. Qualified retired reserve members under the age of 60 looking for TRICARE medical coverage may now purchase TRICARE Retired Reserve (TRR). Once they reach 60, they and their qualifying family members become eligible for TRICARE Standard, Extra and Prime (where available).
“As a comparison, TRR for FY19 was $451.51 per month for an individual plan or $5,418.12 annually. TRICARE Prime for servicemembers who began service prior to 2018 has an annual enrollment fee of $297 for an individual. TRICARE Select has no yearly enrollment fee for those same servicemembers,” Spano’s office added.
Spano weighed in on why he had introduced the proposal.
“We have heavily relied upon our National Guard and Reserve personnel for the past 20 years, and they have made major contributions to our force structure for over 200 years,” Spano said when he introduced the bill. “A decade ago, Congress lowered the age they can receive their retired pay based on active duty service. It’s not right that their eligibility for traditional TRICARE was left at age 60. This has resulted in early retirees often spending the vast majority, if not all, of their pension on TRICARE premiums until they reach 60. This bill will help service members transition into retirement as intended when Congress reduced their retirement age.”
“National Guard and Reservists who are eligible for early retirement currently do not have similar eligibility as Active Duty early retirees for traditional TRICARE because of a technicality. This means they have added costs to get the healthcare they need,” said Gabbard. “This bill honors their service and sacrifice by improving their retirement transition and make sure they get the healthcare they have earned.”
The Reserve Organization of America (ROA), the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) are all behind the proposal.
Last month, EANGUS honored Spano and Gabbard, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination with its “GV ‘Sonny’ Montgomery Eagle Award” for their efforts.
The bill was sent to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee and has gained more than a dozen additional cosponsors including Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Posey and Dan Webster. So far, there is no counterpart in the U.S. Senate.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.