As ThinkProgress reported earlier today, some military families have been concerned about how the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect their health care. Fears about the legislation have been fueled, in part, by lawmakers like Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), who has claimed that “now their programs are going to be administered like welfare programs, rather than earned military benefits.”
There is another piece of misinformation floating around that’s important to clear up. The new law has an individual responsibility requirement, meaning that every person must have health coverage (or receive an affordability waiver), otherwise he/she will be subjected to a fee. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t explicitly state that TRICARE — the military’s health program — will meet the individual responsibility requirement. So on Saturday, lawmakers — out of an abundance of caution — passed separate legislation affirming that TRICARE will not be affected. As House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) stated when the legislation was unanimously approved:
While beneficiaries of these programs will already meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance and will not be required to purchase additional coverage, the TRICARE Affirmation Act would provide clarification by changing the tax code to state it in law.
In the Senate, Jim Webb (D-VA) has introduced a companion bill to Skelton’s, and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) has put forth similar legislation on a related matter. Last night, Webb asked for unanimous consent to approve both measures. While Akaka’s would have to head back to the House for a vote, Webb’s — which has attracted six Republican co-sponsors — could go straight to the President for his signature, since the House already passed the Skelton bill. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected, however, saying that Republicans wanted them attached to the reconciliation bill as an amendment sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), which would then have to go back to the House:
WEBB: Mr. President, I would suggest to my colleague from North Carolina and to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that if you really want to fix this problem, we can fix it right now and we should fix it right now. We should not allow this issue to be tied up in the separate melodrama of the moment here. [...]
COBURN: We’ve got this — we got this a minute and a half ago to see the language. You have an amendment on the floor that actually accomplishes everything you want to do, and why are we doing this? Because you don’t want to mess up a package that’s clean. It has every application, the Burr amendment, to this. With that and the fact that this is exactly the kind of shenanigans the American people don’t want, I object.
WEBB: Let the American people understand the Republicans objected to a matter that could have been fixed by law tomorrow.
Webb brought his legislation up on the floor again today, around 4:30 p.m., saying that he would be working with Republicans to “attempt to clear these today.” Watch Webb’s floor addresses:
Republicans had been trying to attach all sorts of “poison pill” amendments to delay the reconciliation legislation, including one to ban all federal funding for the group ACORN, which has already announced that it is shutting down. Since their attempt failed, and the reconciliation bill is already back in the House, the TRICARE legislation needs to pass the Senate as a stand-alone bill, as Webb had tried to do yesterday.
Even though Bilbray and all other House Republicans voted for this measure, they’re now trying to argue that it doesn’t go far enough. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) has another piece of legislation on the issue, which has attracted 32 co-sponsors — all Republicans. Bilbray spokesman Fritz Chaleff wrote to ThinkProgress that Skelton’s legislation says only that “TRICARE meets the minimal standards of coverage,” while the GOP bill “carves out TRICARE from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” However, Democratic aides on Capitol Hill told ThinkProgress that the the Skelton legislation is more than sufficient and the other bill is political grandstanding.
Everyone from military and veterans organizations to the chairs of relevant House committees to Veterans Affairs officials have confirmed that TRICARE will not be affected by the new health care law.
Rep. Martin Henrich (D-NM) has also now introduced legislation that would “change the maximum age of coverage for children from 23 to 26″ for military families on TRICARE. The Affordable Care Act allows individuals with private insurance to cover their children up until age 26 also.