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Spouses of service members killed in combat would receive free military health care for life under a bill introduced Monday by Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.
The chief effect of the legislation would be to prevent surviving spouses from being charged the same as retirees for using Tricare health benefit beginning three years after a service member's death, which is the case under current law.
The bill, HR 917, is the first measure introduced by Guthrie, an Army veteran who said he wants to use his military experience to help veterans and families.
"It is our responsibility to care for the widows and children of those who have died in the line of duty," Guthrie said in a statement. "These families have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, and they deserve the best care we can provide."
Guthrie, a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who served in the 101st Airborne Division, said the "current way health care benefits are provided to the families of service members killed in combat is burdensome and costly."
"My legislation will make sure those families, whose loved ones gave their lives for our freedom, have affordable coverage. This is something everyone can agree on, regardless of political party," Guthrie added.
Under current law, spouses of service members killed in combat continue to receive free active-duty health care benefits for three years. After that, they may continue to receive Tricare coverage but are charged the same enrollment fees and copayments that apply to military retirees.
Dependent children are eligible for free care until age 21, or age 23 if they are full-time college students, as long as they do not marry. Children with disabilities may remain eligible for free care beyond those age limits.
Under Guthrie's bill, there would be no cost for continued coverage for surviving spouses. The current rules for dependent children would remain the same.
The bill was referred to the House Armed Services Committee, where it will be considered along with other health care legislation later this year when lawmakers begin work on the 2010 defense budget.