House Bill Would Improve Support for Military Special Needs Families

House Bill Would Improve Support for Military Special Needs Families
A military family takes part in an Exceptional Family Member Program event at the Charles Town Landing Zoo near Joint Base Charleston, S.C., in 2018. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Helena B. Owens/Air Force)

MOAA’s efforts to improve support for special needs families gained traction with the introduction of H.R. 6148, the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act. Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) introduced this important bill that would improve consistency of support for mobile military families.   


[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmaker to Support H.R. 6148]


MOAA has advocated for improvements to TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program for several years, including in testimony at the House Armed Services Personnel subcommittee hearing in February.


ECHO serves a relatively small population of the most severely impacted military special needs families, including individuals with intellectual disabilities, serious physical disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder.


Congress established ECHO as a substitute for state 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. However,  the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission reported that ECHO coverage falls short relative to Medicaid Waiver services.


[RELATED: TRICARE Gives Temporary OK to Telehealth Autism Therapy]


The TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act would make significant improvements to 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.


“MOAA is pleased to support the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act,” said Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA President and CEO, in a news release announcing the bill’s introduction. “This important legislation fixes coverage gaps in TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option, a critical resource for special needs military families who are unable to access State Medicaid Waiver programs. Increased ECHO respite hours and other coverage enhancements will greatly assist families who face many challenges navigating military life while also caring for their special needs family members.


“We thank Rep. Cole and Rep. Luria for introducing this bill that has the potential to help so many special needs military families.”


Join MOAA in this effort by asking your lawmaker to support H.R. 6148.


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About the Author

Karen Ruedisueli
Karen Ruedisueli

Ruedisueli is MOAA’s Director of Government Relations for Health Affairs and also serves as co-chair of The Military Coalition’s (TMC) Health Care Committee. She spent six years with the National Military Family Association, advocating for families of the uniformed services with a focus on health care and military caregivers.