House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., introduced legislation on March 19 which explicitly states that TRICARE and nonappropriated fund (NAF) health plans meet all of the health care requirements for individual health insurance. This technical correction will ensure TRICARE beneficiaries don’t suffer any inadvertent penalties under the language of national health care reform legislation passed by the House March 21.
While beneficiaries of these programs will already meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance and will not be required to purchase additional coverage, H.R. 4887, The TRICARE Affirmation Act, would provide clarification by changing the tax code to state it in law. The bill was approved in the House by a vote of 403 to 0.
At the bill’s introduction, Rep. Skelton said, “It is a commonly known fact that I oppose the health care reform bill as it exists currently and will vote against it tomorrow. But, my duty as the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee compels me to ensure that the health care of our brave service men and women, our military retirees, and all of their family members is protected if the bill does indeed pass.
“In the health care bill currently under consideration in Congress, TRICARE and the Non-Appropriated Fund health plans, the programs that provide health care for these individuals, will meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance coverage, and no TRICARE or NAF health plan beneficiary will be required to purchase additional coverage beyond what they already have.
“However, to reassure our military service members and their families and make it perfectly clear that they will not be negatively affected by this legislation, my bill, H.R. 4887, explicitly states in law that these health plans meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance.
“Our brave men and women in uniform provide us with first-class protection, and it is our obligation to provide them—and their families—with first-class health care in return. Every day, our troops risk their lives to stand up for us on the battlefield, and I now ask my colleagues—no matter what your position may be on health care reform itself—to join me in standing up for our service members and their families.
“Nobody knows what the fate of the health care bill will be tomorrow, but by supporting H.R. 4887, we will at least know that we have protected those men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect us.
“We must affirm for our military service members and their families that even if the health reform bill passes, the coverage provided by TRICARE and the Non-Appropriated Fund health plans will be properly defined in law as meeting the minimum requirements for individual health insurance.”
In addition to the legislation, Skelton, along with Reps. Bob Filner, Chairman, Committee on Veterans Affairs; George Miller, Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor; Sander Levin, Chairman, Committee on Ways and Means; and, Henry Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the Committee on Rules advising that they reviewed the health care reform bills to assess the impact of the bills on the health care provided by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The letter stated, “Our reviews of H.R. 3590 and H.R. 4872 lead us to believe that the intent of the bills was never to undermine or change the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs operation of their health care programs or interfere with the care that our service members receive under TRICARE. However, we commit to look into this issue further to ensure that no unintended consequences may arise and to take any legislative action that may be necessary.”
AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Ret. thanked Rep. Skelton for his continuing and unwavering support of the military and their families.