DOD Announces Efforts to Ensure Access to Reproductive Health Care
Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced the Department will take all appropriate action, within its authority and consistent with applicable federal law, as soon as possible to ensure that Service members and their families can access reproductive health care and health care providers can operate effectively.
To ensure consistency across the Force, Secretary Austin has directed the Department to:
• Establish additional privacy protections for reproductive health care information, including standardizing and extending the time Service members have to fulfill their obligation to notify commanders of a pregnancy to no later than 20 weeks unless specific requirements to report sooner, such as those necessitated by occupational health hazards, are set forth in policy.
• Disseminate guidance that directs Department of Defense health care providers that they may not notify or disclose reproductive health information to commanders unless this presumption is overcome by specific exceptions set forth in policy, such as risk of harm to mission, occupational safety requirements, or acute medical conditions interfering with duty.
• Disseminate guidance that directs commanders to display objectivity and discretion when addressing reproductive health care matters and underscores their duty to enforce existing policies against discrimination and retaliation in the context of reproductive health care choices.
To support our health care providers, Secretary Austin has directed the Department to:
• Develop a program to reimburse applicable fees, as appropriate and consistent with applicable federal law, for Department of Defense health care providers who wish to become licensed in a different state than that in which they are currently licensed in order to support the performance of official duties.
• Develop a program to support Department of Defense health care providers who are subject to adverse action, including civil or criminal penalties or loss of license or reprimand, for appropriately performing their official duties, to include the indemnification of any verdict, judgment, or other monetary award consistent with applicable law.
To ensure that we can recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force and mitigate the practical effects identified above, Secretary Austin has directed the Department to:
• Create uniform Department of Defense policy that allows for appropriate administrative absence consistent with applicable federal law for non-covered reproductive health care.
• Establish travel and transportation allowances for Service members and their dependents, as appropriate and consistent with applicable federal law and operational requirements, and as necessary amend any applicable travel regulations, to facilitate official travel to access non-covered reproductive health care that is unavailable within the local area of a Service member's permanent duty station.
Additionally, to improve awareness of the resources and support available to Service members, their families, and other eligible beneficiaries, Secretary Austin has directed the Department to:
• Conduct a comprehensive contraception education campaign to enhance Service members' awareness of the resources available to them and their families, including emergency contraception. That education campaign will also highlight the fact that the Department of Defense has eliminated TRICARE co-pays for medical contraceptive services, including intrauterine devices.
• Expand publicly displayed information on these topics which will highlight the resources available to Service members and other eligible beneficiaries if they experience difficulties accessing reproductive health care at military medical treatment facilities.
• Improve the TRICARE and other Military Health System websites to clarify the types of medical care that are available through the Military Health System following any abortion, regardless of whether it is performed, or paid for, by the Department of Defense at a military medical treatment facility or by a TRICARE authorized provider.
• Update the Military Health System websites, HEALTH.mil and TRICARE.mil, to include a clear and easy-to-find point of contact that Service members or beneficiaries can contact to request assistance if they experience difficulty accessing reproductive health care.
The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will oversee implementation of the above directed actions, to include through policy memoranda, prioritizing first the issuance of departmental policies on privacy protections, as well as policies on administrative absence and travel and transportation allowances for non-covered reproductive health care.
The Secretary of Defense memorandum on Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care can be found here.