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Young Adults in Military Families Gain Health Coverage

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

January 14, 2011 -- Military families will now receive a benefit similar to the popular provision in last year's health care law that extended insurance to young adults up to age 26 under their family policies.

As many as several hundred thousand young adults in military families are expected to be eligible for insurance coverage through the Tricare Young Adult Program, announced by the Department of Defense. The benefit was included in the 2011 defense authorization measure (PL 111-383) President Obama signed into law earlier this month.

The health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) required that private insurance plans allow families to include their dependents up to age 26 in their family policies. However, the law didn't affect Tricare, the health insurance program for members of the military and their dependents, because Tricare was specifically excluded.

But members of the military objected, saying they wanted to be allowed to include their children up to age 26 under their health insurance policies just like civilians.

Tricare until now covered dependent children up to the age of 21, or age 23 if they were enrolled at an accredited educational institution and relied on a parent for more than 50 percent of their financial support. But beyond that, they weren't covered.

"We've been working really hard to make sure we could put Tricare Young Adult on a fast track," Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, the deputy director of Tricare, said in a statement. She said the defense authorization law will allow military families to elect to enroll their children in the young adult program once it's up and running retroactive to Jan. 1.

The program is expected to begin later this spring and—unlike some military health programs—will require payment of a premium, though the cost has not yet been disclosed. Officials said that the premium allows them to provide the benefit without raising health costs in the defense budget, a major area of concern.

Young adults will be able to purchase coverage if they are unmarried and not eligible for their own employer-sponsored coverage. The coverage will be bought on a month-to-month basis. Young adults will receive the standard Tricare benefit package.

"This program has the potential to expand Tricare coverage to several hundred thousand additional beneficiaries," said Hunter.

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