Congressional Debate Over VA Health Care Expansion Examined
The Hill on Thursday examined the "long-simmering" debate between the Senate and House over extending military health care benefits to all National Guard members and reservists (Tiron, The Hill, 11/3).
The Senate in July approved by voice vote an amendment to a $441.6 billion fiscal year 2006 Department of Defense authorization bill that would extend military health benefits for National Guard members and reservists. The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), would allow National Guard members and reservists who are not on active duty, as well as their families, to enroll in TRICARE for a fee.
The cost of the amendment could reach $4.6 billion through FY 2010 (California Healthline, 11/1).
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John Warner (R-Va.) and ranking committee member Carl Levin (D-Mich.) support the measure.
However, House Armed Services Committee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) in May removed a similar amendment because he said it violated House budget rules against raising entitlement spending without a matching offset.
DOD "sides with Hunter" because of cost concerns, The Hill reports. In addition, the Bush administration is concerned that "civilian employers could take advantage of a TRICARE expansion to reduce employee health benefits for staff who are in a Reserve unit," according to The Hill.
Kevin Bishop, a spokesperson for Graham, said the senator "is very much going to push for this," adding, "It is a priority for him." The National Guard Association also is focusing on efforts to persuade House members to support the measure (The Hill, 11/3).