Guardsmen and Reservists Who Retire Early Could Get Cheaper Health Care Under Senate Bill

Airmen of the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing
Airmen of the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing take part in a 9/11 20th anniversary ceremony in Sioux City, Iowa September 11, 2021. (Ter Haar/U.S. Air National Guard)

National Guardsmen and reservists who retire before age 60 would be eligible for low-cost military health care plans under a bill being introduced Thursday by a bipartisan pair of senators, potentially saving those retirees thousands of dollars per year.

The bill, from Sens. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would allow retired reserve personnel to sign up for some Tricare plans as soon as they begin receiving retirement pay, rather than having to wait until they're 60 years old, as is the case now.

“Our nation's retired Guardsmen and reservists should have access to all the healthcare options offered by the Tricare system,” Vance said in a statement to “With this legislation, we have an opportunity to guarantee that these patriotic men and women receive the high-quality, affordable care they deserve. It’s the least we can do in recognition of their service to our country.”

Under a law passed in 2008, members of reserve components who are called up to active duty are allowed to retire with retirement pay as early as age 50. The exact age they can retire depends on how long they served on active duty, with three months knocked off the typical retirement age of 60 years old for every 90 days served.

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Guardsmen and reservists who retire early are eligible for the Tricare Retired Reserve health care plan, but Tricare's Prime and Select plans are open only to retirees who are 60 and older. The Retired Reserve plan is also more expensive than the other coverage.

Monthly premiums for the Retired Reserve plan right now run at $549.35 for an individual. By contrast, Tricare Select's annual fee is $171.96 for an individual retiree who enlisted before 2018.

Vance and Warren's bill would let reserve retirees who are younger than 60 sign up for Tricare's cheaper Select and Prime plans.

The legislation was also introduced last congressional session by Vance's predecessor, Rob Portman, and Warren, but it went nowhere. The path forward for the legislation this time is unclear.

But supporters of the bill argue that as Guardsmen and reservists have been increasingly relied on for missions at home and abroad, retirees deserve to save up to thousands of dollars a year in health care costs.

"Reserve component members who earned early retirement pay through deployment credits should receive their full retirement package, including health care coverage," retired Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, president and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America, said in a statement provided by Vance's office. "National Guard and Reserve early retirees have made many sacrifices, and their retirement should align with other uniformed retirees who are also eligible for Tricare."

The bill is also being supported by the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States and the Reserve Organization of America.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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