Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) and Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-02) released the following statements after the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2021. Previously introduced in March by Reps. Cole and Luria, the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act outlines commonsense changes to TRICARE's existing Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program.
While Congress created TRICARE's ECHO program for families of active-duty service members to serve as an alternative to Medicaid's Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver programs, it currently fails to provide comparable services. Since Medicaid is a program based on state residency, military families often face HCBS waiver access challenges due to frequent moves required by their military service. To fix this problem, the legislation outlines a more robust ECHO program that improves access for military families with special needs dependents and that provides equitable coverage of the services widely offered to residents of many states through Medicaid.
"I am very proud that the House adopted the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act," said Congressman Tom Cole. "This amendment rightly enhances the ECHO program by better aligning respite care and coverage of medical equipment and home and vehicle adaptations with current state offerings. Our men and women in uniform bravely volunteer to keep our nation safe every day, and we should always work to ensure the best care for them and their families. Advancing the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act is a step in the right direction."
"Servicemembers and their families sacrifice so much for our nation, we must ensure they have equitable access to critical health care services," said Congresswoman Elaine Luria. "That is why I was pleased that the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act was adopted as an amendment to this year's NDAA. The TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act will help countless military families gain access to the health care benefits they have earned from their service, and I am honored to work on a bipartisan basis to address this critical issue."
The legislation as contained in the NDAA amendment enhances the ECHO benefit by:
Increasing hours of covered respite care to provide rest for the patient's primary caregiver. Current level of hours dissuades providers from going through the approval process resulting in diminished access to care and falls short of what is offered by states.
Codifying new regulations on respite care eligibility so that families may receive respite care even if they are not accessing other ECHO services.
Codifying coverage of durable equipment so that ECHO may cover service and modification of durable equipment and assistive technology devices, as well as training in use, to ensure equipment is fully functional and matches the physical needs of the user.
Providing coverage of residence and vehicle adaptations. Most states' HCBS waivers cover medically necessary alterations to residences and vehicles to reduce the disabling effects of a person's qualifying medical condition, but ECHO currently does not.
Requiring a GAO study of state waiver and Veteran's Affairs family caregiving programs to analyze best practices and make recommendations for ECHO as necessary.