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Tricare coverage of breastfeeding gear likely to expand

Jun. 5, 2014 - 02:56PM   |  
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Breast-feeding equipment, support and counseling for new moms are likely to be covered under Tricare when the fiscal 2015 defense bill is signed later this year.

Both the House-approved version of the defense authorization bill and the Senate version of the bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee in May include provisions mandating Tricare coverage for breast pumps, counseling and services.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover the full cost of renting or providing pumps as well as lactation counseling and support. But under current law, Tricare pays only for hospital-grade breast pumps for use in medical facilities and under some conditions for premature infants.

To remedy the discrepancy with the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., who spent a career in nursing, sponsored a bill in the House that she said would ensure that “military moms can access the supports they need to provide their babies with a healthy start at life.”

In the Senate, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., shepherded a similar amendment through committee approval.

“As someone who was a single, working mother, I know firsthand the importance of comprehensive, affordable health care when caring for a new child,” McCaskill said. “New mothers in the military and military spouses deserve access to the same high standard of services we’ve achieved in the civilian sector under the health care law.”

Although organizations like La Leche League offer free assistance and support, formal counseling from a lactation consultant and efficient equipment can cost hundreds of dollars.

McCaskill said the legislation will help provide active-duty troops and military spouses a doctor-recommended benefit for positive health outcomes in their children.

The legislation has the support of the National Military Family Association, an advocacy group representing military dependents, retirees and families.

“Ensuring that military health care benefits are on par with civilian coverage is one of our top priorities,” NMFA officials said.

Other maternity-related provisions in the defense bills face more uncertainty. An amendment in the House bill, HR 4435, sponsored by Reps. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Kristi Noem, R-S.D., would expand maternity leave for active-duty moms by six unpaid weeks, to 12 weeks total.

The Military Opportunities for Mothers, or MOM, Act, would bring military policy more in line with the Family Medical Leave Act that allows up to 12 weeks for maternity leave.

Female troops now are allowed six weeks of leave following childbirth and can request more if considered medically necessary. The military gives new fathers 10 days of leave at their commanders’ discretion and three weeks off to service members who adopt a child.

The Senate version of the defense bill contains no similar provision. An amendment would have to be offered when the full Senate considers the legislation to debate, expected later this year.

In a statement after the House passed her amendment, Duckworth said the bill would help retain more female troops.

“Extending maternity leave for these women is the least we can do for those who sacrifice so much for our country,” she said.

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