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WASHINGTON — Mobilized reservists who work for federal agencies could receive free federal health care under new legislation introduced this week.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., would require executive agencies to pay the premiums for the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for reservists called to active duty. The reimbursements would be issued after the reservist’s first month on active duty.

Andrews said he introduced the measure to combat the rising cost of health care premiums and to lessen the strain of deployment on reservists’ families.

Currently, federal agencies have the option to pay for those reservists’ health care premiums. In April 2004, the Defense Department announced it would pay the premiums for the federal plan for any of its employees called to active duty.

But other agencies have not followed suit, according to Michael Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.

Defense Department rules ensure that those reservists still receive health care by issuing them Tricare medical benefits if they go on active duty for more than 30 days. Depending on how long the troops are mobilized, their families can be covered through the program for up to four years.

But Cline said switching health care coverage is often confusing and frustrating for those families.

“Under the [federal plan], I could be seeing a doctor for a specific medical issue, then if I switch to Tricare I’d probably have to switch doctors,” he said. “You can imagine the problems that would cause if you were going through an abnormal pregnancy or if you had other medical problems.”

John Class, deputy director for health affairs at the Military Officers Association of America, said his group hasn’t reviewed the bill yet, but added “we like the idea of choice for these families.”

He said providing flexible options to reserve families is especially important given the large role reservists are playing in the war on terror.

“We need to do this now,” he said. “Situations change so much from case to case and family to family that providing only one plan is going to be a hit-or-miss thing.”

The Andrews bill is currently under consideration by the House Committee on Government Reform.


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