Background: On March 18, 2010, just days before the House votes on the Democrats’ government takeover of health care, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) announced he would introduce legislation to preemptively state that TRICARE and the Department of Defense non-appropriated fund (NAF) health plans meet all of the health care requirements currently under consideration by Congress for individual health insurance. TRICARE and the NAF health plans programs provide health coverage to members of the military and their families, military retirees and their families, and employees of U.S. military post/base exchanges. Chairman Skelton even stated he would also insert this legislative language into the national defense authorization bill, reiterating the threat the health care bill currently poses to military health plans. This is an explicit admission that the final Democrat health care bill does not protect these plans.
Military Protections Scrapped: The Senate-passed health care bill, which the House is expected to “deem” passed on March 21, 2010, omitted protections for military health plans that were included in the House bill. Specifically, the Senate language does not appear to give the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) health care system specific protection from interference by other government agencies administering the various authorities contained in the massive bill, as it pertains to “minimum essential coverage.” The minimum essential coverage language in the Senate bill does cover “the veterans health care program under chapter 17 of title 38, United States Code,” but it is unclear whether that covers veterans’ survivors and dependents.
The final bill would leave it up to a bureaucrat at the Department of the Treasury to determine whether TRICARE meets the minimum standards under the Democrats’ individual health insurance mandate. If that bureaucrat decides against TRICARE, service members and their families would have to buy some other health coverage or pay a penalty.
In an effort to bolster support for the House health care takeover back in August 2009, the White House advertised that bill’s exemption for 9.2 million military personnel, families, and retirees covered under TRICARE and the military health plan. In August, the White House website stated that:
Health reform legislation that is being considered would enable those who are covered by TRICARE to meet the shared responsibility requirement for individuals to have insurance, thereby exempting such members of the uniformed services and dependants from being assessed penalties. If enacted, the President will ensure that this exemption is implemented aggressively.
Of course, the final health care bill does not include this promised exemption for military plans.