Federal health plan benefits VT National Guard units

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(Host) Vermont Adjutant General Martha Rainville says a new federal health care plan for National Guard members will be very beneficial to Vermont Guard units and will help increase their readiness for deployment.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq Appropriations bill that was signed into law last week by president Bush is a provision that creates a health insurance program for members of the National Guard and Army Reserves.

The program allows Guard members to purchase a comprehensive health care policy for roughly $420 a year for an individual plan and about $1400 for a family plan.

The head of the Vermont Guard, General Martha Rainville, says the proposal is very important because at least 20% of all Guard members have no health insurance at all and many more are underinsured:

(Rainville) What it means on a practical basis is that we now have a mechanism to insure our traditional Guard members, so that now if you’re a member of the Guard and you’re unemployed, you have a way to have health insurance for you and your family at a low cost – or if you are employed and don’t have insurance through your employer, you can also use this as a vehicle for insurance for you and your family.

(Kinzel) And Rainville is convinced that the program will help make these units stronger if they are deployed:

(Rainville) One of the big issues we face when we are called to mobilize a unit is insuring that people are medically ready, that they can meet the physical standards, and that they don’t have any medical problems that might become a real problem if they are away from home. If somebody has insurance they are much more likely to have continuing care, wellness checks, physicals – all of those things that add up to taking care of a small medical problem before it becomes a big medical problem.

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy is the chief sponsor of the plan.

(Leahy) You can’t say to the Guard and Reserves we’re going to send you away for a year, you’re going to face very, very serious problems. You’re going to face death, you’re going to face fighting and, oh by the way, you’re going to be a second class citizen when it comes to your health care.

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s also very concerned about recent reports that indicated that Guard and Reserve members, who had served in Iraq and had returned to this country, were not receiving the same health care services as regular members of the Armed Services.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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