Canton Repository

May 21, 2003

Senate OKs proposal to improve reservists’ health-care coverage

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Members of the Reserves and National Guard would gain access to military health-care coverage even when they are not on active duty if a proposal passed by the Senate on Tuesday becomes law.

But the earliest that measure could become law is next year, said one of its sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The proposals approved by the Senate were based on legislation that Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, introduced last month.

“We’re trying to build a coalition to get a strong vote today,” Graham said before the Senate voted 85-10 in favor of the plan, offered as an amendment to a defense authorization bill. DeWine joined the majority in voting for the bill. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich was unavailable for the vote but would have supported it, a spokesman said.

Graham said the plan would not become law this year because Congress has not allocated funds for the program in this year’s budget. His plan would cost about $1.6 billion a year, he said.

Advocates of the measure, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said the growing use of part-time Reserve and National Guard personnel since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks points to the need for better health coverage. More than 200,000 reservists are on active duty.

When President Bush calls up members of the Reserve or National Guard to full-time duty, they and their families receive TRICARE health coverage similar to that available to active-duty military. When their mobilization ends, they lose the coverage.

About 20 percent of guard members lack any health coverage except during the time they are mobilized, Daschle said.

The plan approved by the Senate would allow members of the National Guard and Reserve to pay a premium to be insured through TRICARE even when they are not mobilized. The premiums ranging from $330 for individuals to $610 for families a year would typically cost less than private insurance.

In addition, the package would allow families to keep existing private health insurance, with the government helping to pay the premiums, when members of the Reserve or Guard are called to active duty. That provision is intended to prevent the disruption that occurs when private insurance is replaced by military health coverage.