Lawmakers want Pentagon to waive Tricare Copays over birth control services

House lawmakers are urging the Pentagon to expand access to contraception for military family members and retirees by waiving Tricare co-pay fees on appointments for such care and services.

On Thursday, 141 House Democrats sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking him to eliminate user fees for counseling and services related to birth control and long-acting reversible contraceptives such as implants and injections. They argue that it would improve the health and well-being of recipients as well as service members.

The move would bring Tricare contraceptive benefits more in line with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” The law requires private insurance plans to cover preventive services, including all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, for their patients, lawmakers said.

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“These protections do not apply to coverage through Tricare. As a result, military families have fewer rights than those they serve to protect,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. , chairwoman of the House Armed Services Personnel Panel.

Under current law, spouses and children of an active duty member or retiree enrolled in Tricare Select must pay for prescriptions obtained outside of a military pharmacy as well as appointments for advice on birth control and for the insertion and removal of long-acting contraceptives.

Retirees and family members of retirees enrolled in Tricare Prime face the same costs when seeing a Tricare-approved provider.

By law, Austin cannot waive co-payments for birth control prescriptions for those who obtain their medications through a location other than a military pharmacy. But he has the option of waiving dating copayments, they say.

“We encourage you to forgo contraceptive copays under your jurisdiction and continue to work with Congress to eliminate all contraceptive cost sharing for military members and military families, as loopholes will remain in the law for some recipients of Tricare,” they wrote.

Eliminating copayments for prescriptions filled at Tricare retail pharmacies would require legislation, which has been introduced in the House and Senate but has in the past failed to make it into the final bill. on defense policy, including in fiscal year 2022.

Lawmakers noted that the Department of Defense itself backed the proposal.

“The estimated $56 million in pregnancy costs averted suggests that removing these financial barriers to contraception can mean greater family planning freedom of choice for our beneficiaries,” DoD officials wrote in an assessment. , according to the letter sent to Austin.

The move would expand patient access to more effective long-term birth control options, lawmakers said.

A study of the Navy’s approach to boot camp to sex education and contraception, which includes the provision of walk-in clinics and access to long-acting reversible methods of contraception. actions such as intrauterine devices and hormonal implants, found that the program slightly reduced delivery rates in the ward. , leave related to one day and non-deployable time related to childbirth and recovery of almost eight days.

More than 470,000 women of childbearing age are married to active duty service members, and there are more than 120,000 dependents of service members over the age of 12. While many receive their medical care at military treatment facilities, some choose to use Tricare Select, a program that allows them to see non-military providers.

About 3.1 million retirees under the age of 65 and their family members use the Tricare health program, about half of whom are women, some of childbearing age.

Lawmakers said the change would improve women’s lives by giving them more control over their family planning decisions and medical treatment, since birth control is also used to treat conditions such as endometriosis, an overgrowth of tissue outside the uterus.

“Prioritizing access to contraception for service members and their dependents is an investment in their health and well-being and an investment in the stability of our armed forces,” they wrote.

A Department of Defense official declined to comment on the letter, telling the department would respond directly to lawmakers.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

Related: ‘It’s shameful’: New law attacks maternity care for female veterans

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