You may already know that one of the Affordable Care Act’s great new preventive benefits for women is coverage of breastfeeding supports and supplies. Women with health coverage through the new Marketplaces, and many who have coverage through an employer, are now able to get breast pumps and help from a lactation consultant as they learn to breastfeed, deal with breastfeeding problems and, if they choose, return to work – without any out-of-pocket expense! Breastfeeding benefits both moms and babies, and this coverage helps women overcome some of the problems they often encounter as they start breastfeeding or if they go back to work as nursing mothers.

What you may not know is that women in the military and women in military families, who have health coverage through TRICARE, have not been eligible for this new preventive benefit. But this week, just in time for Memorial Day, both houses of Congress have taken big steps towards fixing this problem.

If, like us, you normally focus on women’s health policy, you may not regularly pay much attention to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This legislation establishes annual funding levels and spending policies for the nation’s armed services – including personnel policies, pay and health care benefits. This year, thanks to Senator Claire McCaskill and Representative Lois Capps, the NDAA appears likely to extend breastfeeding benefits to women in uniform and women in military families.

Senator McCaskill and Representative Capps busily worked the legislative process this week to ensure that TRICARE, the health care program that serves uniformed service members, retirees and their families, covers breastfeeding supports and supplies for its members. This week, the House of Representatives passed its version of the fiscal year 2015 NDAA, which includes Representative Capps’s amendment to require this coverage. And also this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee offered its proposed version of the Senate’s NDAA bill, which, thanks to Senator McCaskill, also requires TRICARE to cover breastfeeding benefits.

However, with a nod to Schoolhouse Rock, the 2015 NDAA is “still just a bill,” so there are a few more steps to come. The full Senate will debate and vote on this legislation – and both chambers will need to vote again once the differences between their two bills are ironed out. But as of today, women in the military and women in military families are some big steps closer to enjoying the same benefits for breastfeeding education and supplies as those offered to new moms in private plans. 

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