New bill aims to expand mental health care for military families
Stars and Stripes April 27, 2023
A bill set to be introduced in the Senate as soon as Thursday aims to cut costs and expand mental health care access for families of active-duty service members, a senator sponsoring the legislation said.
The Military Families Mental Health Services Act would provide active-duty military family members covered by Tricare — the military’s health insurance provider — three free outpatient mental health visits per year, said Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. Ossoff was expected to announce the new bill co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., on Thursday.
“Our bipartisan bill will expand free access to counseling and mental health services for military families, who make great sacrifices for our nation, endure great stress in so doing, and deserve nothing less than the care they need when they need it,” Ossoff said.
The bill would allow the defense secretary to waive co-pays for military dependents seeking mental health care for those three visits each year. Co-pays vary for families using Tricare. For service members using Tricare Select who joined the military after 2018, the co-pay for an in-network outpatient mental health visit would be $30, according to Tricare.
The Pentagon has aimed in recent years to improve mental health care access for its troops and their family members, amid increases in suicide rates and other mental health issues.
For example, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research found the children of service members who have deployed since the 2001 Afghanistan invasion were “more likely to have behavioral health problems than their same-aged peers.” The study found conditions prevalent among military children included sleep issues, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal ideation.
According to data estimates provided by Ossoff’s office, giving military family members three free mental health care visits per year could entice more than 10,000 military families to use mental health benefits in the coming years.
Officials expect about 23,700 active-duty families on the Tricare Select plan to use mental health benefits in 2024, which could expand to nearly 35,000 by 2028, largely because of the free mental health sessions, according to the estimated data.
Ossoff and Kramer last year worked together on a similar bill that eliminated copays for three outpatient mental health care or substance abuse treatments through the Department of Veterans Affairs each year. That bill was passed as part of the $1.7 trillion omnibus federal spending bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in January.