Demobilized Reservists Could Keep Health Insurance

The more than 400,000 National Guard (search) and Reserve (search) members who have been mobilized since September 2001 for the war on terror will be offered the choice of military health care coverage for as long as eight years after they return to civilian life, officials said Thursday.

Only those who remain in the drilling reserves after they are demobilized will be eligible, said Thomas Hall, the assistance secretary of defense for reserve affairs.

Hall said that in discussing the plan with more than 2,000 Guard and Reserve members in the Persian Gulf recently henal health insurance.

"It targets the young and women bearing the brunt today," Hall said.

Until now, Guard and Reserve members could retain health care coverage under the Defense Department's Tricare (search) system for no more than six months after they left active duty. Under the new arrangement they could retain coverage for at least one year and as long as eight years, depending on the length of their mobilization and the length of their commitment to remain in the Guard or Reserve.

They would pay monthly premiums of $75 for individual coverage and $233 for families, officials said.

William Winkenwerder, the assistance secretary of defense for health affairs, said at a joint news conference with Hall that he has no firm estimate of how much the program will cost the government.

"It will be several hundreds of millions of dollars in this first year," he said, and the amount over time will depend on how many Guard and Reserve members choose to accept the benefit.

Hall said he expects a majority of eligible Guard and Reserve members to resume coverage under the health care system offered by their civilian employer, rather than take the military coverage.

Winkenwerder said the Pentagon has no firm forecast of how many people will take the benefit. "It's going to be many thousand to tens of thousands, we would expect, at a minimum," he said