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Military Kids Await TRICARE Extension

Military family

One heralded part of the controversial health care law that took effect this past year -- allowing people to stay on parental insurance policies until age 26 -- has a hole big enough to march an infantry division through.

The law doesn't apply to Tricare, the Department of Defense program that insures 9.6 million active-duty, reserve and retired military members and their families. Congress moved to fix the oversight with an addition to the 2011 defense spending bill, but the Defense Department is still crafting regulations that would give veterans' children the same options civilian children have had for nearly a year.

Because Tricare is a government program, and the health care bill regulated private insurance carriers, the law didn't apply.

"It's what happens when legislation is written with haste and without people reading it," said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Murphy co-sponsored a bill to bring Tricare's age limit in line with that of private insurers. Introduced a year ago Thursday, the bill never made it beyond a congressional committee.

Meanwhile, Tony Pittore's son's insurance ran out.

Pittore, 64, of Harrison City served 22 years in the Army Reserve, and more than 20 years as a Washington, D.C., police officer. His wife, Marianne, who died of cancer 10 years ago, served in the Army. Their daughter, Natalie, enlisted in the Air Force after 9/11. Their son, Anthony, enlisted but a year later was hit by a driver who ran a stop sign and was discharged because of his injuries.

Anthony attends the University of California at Riverside. His father got him a AAA membership in case his car breaks down. But in July, he turned 23, the year Tricare ends for children who are full-time students. The age limit for non-students is 21.

"He's way out there, and I'm here. If something happens, I'm not really there for him," Pittore said.

About 250,000 people between ages 21 and 26 would qualify for the extension, once enrollment opens, said Tricare spokesman Austin Camacho. People should be able to buy into the program by late spring, he said.

At least one veterans' advocate was told the program might not be ready until August.

"I'm in the same boat [as Pittore]. I've got a daughter who's 25, and I can't get her covered right now," said Ross Ogilvie, deputy national service director of the veterans advocacy group AMVETS.

By the time Tricare catches up with civilian insurance, she'll be 26 and ineligible even under expanded rules, Ogilvie said. "Any time you deal with Uncle Sam, things move at a snail's pace."

The health care law, signed a year ago Wednesday, remains a politically charged issue as Republicans work to repeal it. The legislation caused protests and fierce debates across the country, and the Supreme Court ultimately is expected to decide whether it is constitutional.

In the frantic and contentious weeks leading up to the law's passage, Tricare's age limit got lost in the shuffle, said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

"It was an oversight, and it was addressed as soon as it was discovered," Doyle said.

Pittore sees it differently.

"I've probably e-mailed or called [lawmakers] a dozen times," Pittore said, including his congressman, Murphy; U.S. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey and former senator Arlen Specter; and Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran. Though he asked for specific answers, he said he received general replies about how the lawmakers support U.S. troops. "It kind of irritates me."

A spokeswoman for Murphy's office said a staff member would help Pittore, if contacted.