Momentum is growing in Congress to allow military dependents to stay on their parents' Tricare health plan until age 26 without paying monthly premiums.
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., along with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and others, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the monthly premiums now required under the Tricare Young Adult health program.
Tester chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense -- the panel that holds the purse strings for the Department of Defense. His backing, along with a companion bill in the House that has 45 co-sponsors, enhances the likelihood of the Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act making it into law this year.
"Our bipartisan bill allows every military child under the age of 26 to continue receiving steady coverage under their parents' plan, enabling these young adults to finish school or start their careers without worrying about what happens if they get sick," Tester said in a release.
The Affordable Care Act allows children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance plans at no additional cost.
But under current law, dependent children of active-duty or retired personnel lose their Tricare eligibility at age 21, or age 23 if they are full-time students.
They have the option to purchase coverage under the Tricare Young Adult program up to age 26, at a cost of $459 a month for Tricare Young Adult Prime and $257 for Tricare Young Adult Select.
For active-duty families who pay no enrollment fees or monthly premiums for their health care, and for retirees who pay $606 per year for Tricare Prime or $300 a year for Tricare Select, the premiums often come as a surprise.
"Back in 2006, when my son turned 21, I contacted Tricare concerning his continued coverage to age 26 as written in the [Affordable Care Act] and supported by Montana law," retired Montana National Guard Col. Kevin Collins said in a release. "After several past attempts and failures to align these two programs, it is now time to bring Tricare in line with the [Affordable Care Act.]"
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., introduced the bill in the House last year, although it was not included in the final version of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
She is sponsoring it again this year with Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla.; 43 additional House members are also supporting it.
The legislation would affect roughly 37,000 families, according to 2020 data. DoD officials have said the majority of military dependents who use Tricare Young Adult are the children of retirees.
Tricare was exempt from Affordable Care Act requirements because it was a stand-alone federal health program that met the intent of the ACA, but the exclusion extended to the part of the law that allowed family members to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26.
Congress created Tricare Young Adult in 2011 to address the disparity, but it also stipulated that the program must cover its own costs, necessitating premiums based on commercial insurance rates and coverage.
Tester said the proposed legislation is a "no-brainer," ensuring that "service members and their families have access to the same affordable health care as folks with private insurance."
"The fact is that children of service members feel the unique impacts of their parents' military careers and need the same access to care as their civilian peers," he said.
Waltz told Military.com in January that the legislation would cost about $125 million a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
He argued, however, that health care benefits often factor into a service member's decision to stay in the military, and the issue is important to retention.
"I put this in the 'It's the right thing to do' category," Waltz said.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.