One Iowa Congressman is pushing to get new health insurance benefits for unisnured members of the National Guard while another is analyzing the pricetag. Congressman Tom Latham, a Republican from Alexander, first proposed health insurance for the Guard back in February. He’s encouraged that the U.S. Senate voted this week to let Guard members buy in to TRICARE — the health care system for the full-time military. Under the Senate-approved proposal, a Guard member could pay $50 a month and the government would pick up the rest of the premium cost. Adding to dental coverage would boost the monthly cost for an individual to $100. The insurance benefit would be available to Guard members who are deployed overseas or those who are still state-side. Forty percent of the Guard and Reserve members in the Midwest are uninsured, according to Latham, who believes offering health care coverage to Guard soldiers and Reservists would be a boost for recruiting and retention. Latham says it’s also a matter of national security. About 20 percent of the people from the Guard and Reserve who’re called to active duty have some sort of medical or dental condition that prevents them from being immediately activated and deployed. The House narrowly rejected the idea earlier this year. “But I think with the push that there is in the Senate and also I think there is a strong feeling in the House that this is extremely important,” Latham says. “Our opportunity is the best it’s ever been this year to get this done, finally.” Latham estimates the cost would be about $130 million in the coming year and just over $3.5 billion over the next five years. It’s those numbers that concern Congressman Jim Nussle, a Republican from Manchester who’s chairman of the House Budget Committee. “We are checking the budget on that,” Nussle says. “There are some who believe that this.is a positive way to allow Guardsmen to be part of the national health care system that is afforded to all regular military personnel so we are looking at whether this can be expanded at a reasonable cost.” Nussle says those cost estimates could change. For example, Nussle says some members of the Guard already have health care insurance, either through their employer or a policy they bought themselves. He says House leaders are willing to take a look at the Senate-passed plan. “But we have just heard about it over the last few days and we have no idea how much this will cost or what this takes away from in the rest of the defense bill that’s been presented,” Nussle says. The matter should be resolved in September, when the House and Senate are expected to take a final vote on the defense spending package.
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