The national health reform bill passed by the House last month and the Senate version to be debated in early December pose no threat to current health care benefits provided to military families, retirees or veterans, say advocates for these beneficiaries as well as congressional committee staffs.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) states in Section 311 that "nothing" in the bill "shall be construed as affecting" authorities used by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to provide Tricare programs or VA health care benefits.

The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the Fleet Reserve Association of America, the American Legion and other veterans’ service organizations have studied the legislative language of both bills. Their own reviews, and assurances they’ve received from relevant committees, give them confidence that the bills won’t impact benefits or fees charged by Tricare or VA, nor will these beneficiaries be exposed to any new tax liabilities.

"We have not talked to anybody — Republican, Democrat, anyone in the [Obama] administration or serving in Congress — who is trying to do anything to affect military people" as part of national health reform legislation, said Steve Strobridge, MOAA’s director of government relations.

Steve Robertson, legislative director for the American Legion, said he has assurances from the armed services committees, veterans’ affairs committees and congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that health reform will not impact Tricare programs or VA health care.

"My comfort level is pretty high," Robertson said.

Strobridge noted that the Senate bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (HR 3590), doesn’t contain the same specific language that the House bill does to shield Tricare programs and VA health benefits.

However, the Senate bill’s provision to allow an excise tax on "applicable employer-sponsored coverage" lists, among government plans, only the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan for possible inclusion. Tricare and VA health care benefits are not named. Finance committee staffers have explained that this was intentional to shield these programs.

MOAA has urged senators to add three clarifying provisions to their bill. One of those would duplicate language of the House bill that nothing in the legislation alters health care program authorities for DOD and VA.

Military people who seek assurance that the Senate health reform bill won’t impact them negatively end up "looking for something that isn’t there," Strobridge said. The Senate, like the House, should make it clear, he said.

"There are lots of people out there who would like to raise military fees" on health benefits, Strobridge said. "But they are not trying to do it in this legislation. ... As far as we can see, everybody in Congress is trying to bend over backwards to protect the military. And that’s true of both parties."

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