Military extends health care coverage for adult children

The military's health care program is taking advantage of a fiscal 2011 Defense Authorization Act provision allowing it to extend coverage for adult children.

The TRICARE Young Adult Program will give unmarried dependents without their own employer-based insurance the option of buying month-to-month health coverage until age 26, the Defense Department announced on Thursday. Previously, children were eligible for TRICARE until age 21, or 23 if they were full-time students.

Though the program is expected to launch this spring, families will be able to purchase the coverage retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011. Premiums have yet to be announced; under the authorization act, which President Obama signed on Jan. 7, rates must cover the full cost of the program.

The new benefits come as TRICARE program costs are being scrutinized. Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this month proposed "modest" fee hikes for working age retirees as part of $154 billion in cost-savings measures.

"The [young adult program] premium allows us to provide this excellent benefit to our military families while responsibly addressing the impact of health care costs on the DoD budget," Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of TRICARE, said in a statement.

The program could extend coverage to as many as several hundred thousand additional beneficiaries, according to the statement.

Offering coverage until age 26 will put TRICARE on par with civilian health plans, which are required to do so under the 2010 health reform law.

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