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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 - Continued

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
SENATE
PAGE S6587
May 19, 2003

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2004—CONTINUED

Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, I compliment Senator Daschle and the folks he worked with to try to come up with the solution to the retention problem we are going to have. It is inevitable because these forces are being utilized at such rates.

    Senator Daschle put forward an amendment that would basically allow Guard and Reserve personnel the benefit of health care as a condition of membership. I congratulate him for doing that. I have an amendment that has a little bit different approach to it. We have similar cosponsors. The reason I am doing this is to get my amendment out so we can have two looks at the same problem and see if we can address the concerns that are growing in the country regarding the utilization rates of Guard and Reserve personnel.

    The comment the chairman had about Senator Daschle's amendment he will have about this amendment. We need to look at it. There is no money in the budget resolution for it. But I think what we are trying to do, in a bipartisan fashion, is put on the table for the country to digest, as well as the Senate, House, and Department of Defense, what it is going to be like 10 or 20 years from now if we keep using Guard and Reserve members at the level we are doing it now.

    The honest answer is, if you are in the Guard and Reserve, you are going to be called on more and not less because the war on terrorism will go on for a while. It is not anywhere near over. Iraq has a component to it for the Guard and Reserve. People are in Bosnia, and that is a Guard function. This amendment, along with what Senator Daschle is trying to do, puts some new programs on the table to make it more attractive to enlist in the Reserve or Guard and to stay.

    Senator Warner's concerns are very legitimate. The force has changed. The utilization rates of Guard and Reserve forces have changed. In the last gulf war, I was serving at MacIntire National Guard base as a staff judge advocate for the base. During that service, it was eye opening for me. When a Guard member is called to active duty, as our units were, half of the people went over to the desert; the other half stayed behind. I stayed behind to provide legal services to the members and their families.

    When you are called to active duty, more times than not the pay you receive versus that as a civilian goes down. There are provisions under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act to allow renegotiation of interest payments, and to do some short-term things to make the burden of being called to active duty for a Guard or Reserve family a bit easier to bear. But more times than not, there is a dramatic reduction in income for the Guard and Reserve member called to active duty. Sometimes these tours can last a year or more.

    What we are trying to do is create a benefit package that is not better than the Active Forces and that complements the Guard and Reserve forces and provides an incentive that will make it more attractive to stay. If you are a small business owner, as a Guard or Reserve member, sometimes your business suffers greatly. As a lawyer, I was called to active duty for about 100 days, so my partners had to take over my obligations. If I had been a sole practitioner, it would have been tough. But that is what you sign up for—to help your country.

    We are suggesting to create a benefit package more like that of the Active Forces, and one that is more user friendly. When a Guard or Reserve member is called to active duty, family counseling is not usually available at those bases. Some are at civilian airports. Military families have counseling available. They have many assets available on Air Force and Army bases that provide support for the families. Literally, the Guard and Reserve families have to make it up as they go.

    Our Presiding Officer is a cosponsor of the bill. He has been a great advocate of the Guard and Reserve and Active Forces.

    We have to understand this is one big family. The Guard and Reserve component serves in a unique way, but it is vital to the overall mission. What we are trying to do—Senator Daschle and myself and others, in a bipartisan fashion—is address the health care problem. Here is what happens. If you are called to active duty and you are in the civilian community, you have one set of doctors and health care network available to you. When you are activated, you have to change systems. So we are trying to create continuity of health care.

    My main goal is to allow a Guard or Reserve member to access health care in a fashion that makes health care better for the overall military family unit. This is the difference between our approach and Senator Daschle's. His bill has two ways that a Guard or Reserve family can have access to health care. One is that they can sign up for TRICARE at the same participation rate as Federal employees, and that would be $420 for a single individual, $1,446 for a Guard or Reserve family.

    Our bill allows you to be a member of TRICARE as an active-duty military family, and your premiums would be $330 for a single enlisted person, $560 for enlisted families, $380 for a single officer, $610 for an officer's family. Basically, we have taken what a military retiree would pay in premiums to be a member of TRICARE and added $100 in additional costs for an enlisted person, $150 for an officer. That is still a great deal. It lowers the cost. It is cheaper to the military families in Senator Daschle's approach.

    The big difference between our amendments is that, under Senator Daschle's amendment, the Federal Government—the military could pay a subsidy to the private sector health insurance company covering the military person, the Guard or Reserve person.

    My concern with that is the study that we have seen suggests it may be that up to 90 percent Guard or Reserve people will choose an option where the Government subsidizes health care in the private sector. My goal is to get more people into TRICARE to make it better for the overall military family, and at affordable rates.

    It is a distinction that matters somewhat. But the point of both of these amendments is to provide health care to Guard and Reserve families that has a continuity component and that is affordable. We need to address this as a nation because you have given some numbers on the other side about how many Guard or Reserve families don't have health care or adequate health care. Both bills take us in that direction. The key difference is, under my proposal, it would work in a bipartisan fashion with Senator Clinton and others. A Guard or Reserve family, or military person, would be in the TRICARE system like their active-duty component, giving a boost to TRICARE overall.

    I wanted to bring this amendment to the floor. I congratulate Senator Daschle and all the Republicans and Democrats, including both of my colleagues from Georgia, Senators MILLER and CHAMBLISS. Senator Clinton appeared at a news conference when we unveiled the bill. Let me tell you, she has been terrific to work with. We are probably polar opposites in terms of political ideology most times, but to have her join this cause and help push this bill is a testament to the power of this bill and of this issue.

    With that said, I offer the amendment. I hope our colleagues will look at what both amendments do. I hope colleagues will look seriously at this body trying to provide, as soon as possible in the future, in a responsible way, health care to the entire military family unit.

    That unit does include in a substantial way Guard and Reserve members, and they are part of the military family. We cannot do a mission without the Guard and Reserve. We do not want to have a better benefits package. We want to have an attractive benefits package that will be good for retention and recruitment. That is the spirit in which this amendment is offered.

    The chairman's concerns are legitimate. This has been scored at $1.4 billion a year. Senator Daschle's amendment is $1.2 billion a year, but they are not taking into account that under their proposal, many people would not go into TRICARE but ask for payments for their health care in the private sector.

    I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this issue.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. That is a very good question. Here is my understanding of how those numbers relate to each other.

    The cost to the Government under Senator Daschle's package is $1.2 billion per year. The package I am offering is $1.4 billion. So it is more costly to the Government with the way it is constructed at this point. To the military member, it is several hundred dollars a month and more advantageous with our proposal.

    Senator Daschle's proposal takes a 78-percent participation rate that all of us pay in the Federal health care program. What I do is take the retiree contribution to TRICARE and add $100 for enlisted and $150 for officers.

  Here is the big difference: By having the second option where the Federal Government will pay an unknown amount of the premium that a Reserve or Guard member has in the private sector and is not identified how much we will pay, that changes the participation rates dramatically.

    We have been told, under our proposal, it is a 70-percent participation rate. Under Senator Daschle's proposal, it is 50 percent. When you include the component of where we would pay to subsidize the private health care, it could go up to 90 percent in terms of that component, and nobody knows what that cost is.

    Mr. LEVIN. Is the Senator indicating the cost of maintaining the private care option is not included in the estimates that Senator Daschle received?

    Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. The participation rates are at 80,000. They are basing the current numbers on the 2002, 80,000 reservists mobilized. They are telling us that is not a true number; that, in reality, if this second option were offered, they would go from 80,000 to almost 350,000, and that has to be included.

    Mr. LEVIN. So the Senator is suggesting—it is important to get these numbers straightened out overnight—that the cost to the Government of the second option that Senator Daschle offers, which is to maintain private insurance, that cost is not included in the estimate which was given to Senator Daschle?

    Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. It is not included in the true form. It has as a cost estimate using 80,000 reservists when, in fact, they tell us the participation rates will be three times higher than that.

    Mr. LEVIN. In which case the estimate would not be accurate.

    Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. That is correct.

    Mr. LEVIN. We are going to ask our staffs to take a look at this issue overnight. There is a real difference.

    Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. I understand.
    

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