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Bucking strong objections from the Pentagon, lawmakers also voted to allow uninsured members of the National Guard and reserves to participate in Tricare.

According to the new law, Guard and reserve members who are unemployed or whose employers do not offer health insurance would be able to enroll themselves and their families in Tricare on a cost-share basis, even if they have not been activated.

A single reservist would pay an annual premium of about $420, while family coverage would cost about $1,450.

Meanwhile, all reservists and their families are now eligible to enroll in Tricare as soon as members receive activation orders, as opposed to when they are actually activated.

And reservists on active duty orders of 30 days or more can stay in Tricare for 6 months after completion of their active duty tour, compared with the current 60- and 120-day authorizations.

The Tricare offer expires after one year, however.

Lawmakers might try to put the Tricare provision into the pending 2004 defense authorization bill, which has not been signed. But the provision is good for only one year, and the Bush administration has said it will veto any bill that includes a permanent Tricare expansion.

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