Backers of the Section 712 health plan pilot program hope to offer the families of reservists, like these trainees at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, access to consistent medical benefits. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The next Defense secretary can set up what amounts to a private health insurance exchange pilot program for military reservists.  

The five-year pilot program would not necessarily operate through a website, but it would offer reservists and their families access to a wide range of national and regional health benefits plans that would have to meet standards set by the director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Related: Defense bill includes private health insurance test program

OPM is the agency that runs the well-established Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, which helped develop the concept of letting people choose from a menu of health insurance options.

The provision, described in Section 712 of S. 2943, the National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017, does not require the reservist pilot program plans to meet Affordable Care Act coverage standards, but it requires the OPM director to look for plans that “do not contain unnecessary restrictions.”

The plans would not necessarily have to cover drug, dental or extended health care services.

The reservist would normally pay 28 percent of the coverage premiums.

If the reservist was activated, the government would pay all of the premiums.

Other parts of Section 712 require the Defense secretary to look into other options for improving reservists’ health benefits, such as letting reservists participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, or giving reservists cash they can use to pay for the coverage they already have.

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