House passage of the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act as part of the chamber’s FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) marks the next step in a long effort to secure better benefits for the most severely impacted military special needs families.
Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) secured House passage of the bill, which is now Section 706 – Expansion of Benefits Available Under TRICARE Extended Care Health Option Program – in the House-engrossed version of the NDAA. MOAA needs your support to ensure lawmakers maintain the language in the final NDAA as the legislation moves through the conference process.
MOAA has been fighting for improvements to the TRICARE Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program since the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission highlighted ECHO shortcomings in its 2015 report. Most recently, MOAA included ECHO improvement recommendations in testimony at the House Armed Services Personnel subcommittee hearing in February.
ECHO serves a relatively small population of military special needs families, including individuals with intellectual disabilities, serious physical disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder.
Congress established ECHO as a substitute for Medicaid Waiver services that are often unavailable to mobile military families. Medicaid Waiver programs provide in-home services and supports to those who would otherwise require care in an institutional setting. Many states have lengthy waitlists for their Medicaid Waiver programs, leaving military families unable to access services when they PCS from one state to another, moving from waitlist to waitlist.
Because ECHO is intended to fill a gap for families unable to obtain Medicaid services, Medicaid Waivers should serve as the benchmark for ECHO-covered services. As noted in a 2018 Congressional Research Service report, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission uncovered several areas where ECHO coverage falls short relative to Medicaid Waiver services.
Section 706 of the House NDAA version would align ECHO coverage with Medicaid, including increased respite care levels as well as coverage for vehicle and residence adaptions – services covered by most state Medicaid programs.
Because the Senate did not include a provision to improve ECHO in its NDAA version, it is important to generate support for House Section 706 as the NDAA moves into conference, where differences between the House and Senate versions will be resolved.
Join MOAA in this effort by asking your lawmaker to support H.R. 6395 Section 706 – Expansion of Benefits Available Under TRICARE Extended Care Health Option Program – as the NDAA process moves forward.