Navigating Tricare: How to Find Breastfeeding Support
Choosing how to feed your baby is likely one of the most important things expectant moms ponder during those 40-odd weeks of pregnancy. If you choose to breastfeed, you may wonder how Tricare will support you. Are breast pumps covered like they are under other health insurance programs? What about lactation consultants?
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed, it required all health insurers to provide some form of breast pump to all new mothers who requested one at no or minimal cost. It was written into the bill that Tricare was exempt from ACA requirements, so Tricare’s old policy of only providing hospital-grade pumps to mothers of some premature infants was able to stand. Fortunately, a policy that Tricare change its benefits regarding breastfeeding support was introduced with the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on December 22, 2014 and the law took effect on January 1, 2015. Unfortunately, as of March 2015, Tricare has still not finalized its new breastfeeding support policy and as such, breast pumps and lactation consultants are still not covered. Tricare currently suggests that “beneficiaries should save receipts for supplies purchased (after December 2, 2014) in case they can be reimbursed once the policy is approved.” At this time reimbursement is not guaranteed.
In a February 2015 Facebook update, Tricare did clarify that a prescription will be required for a pump to be covered and that pumps must be purchased through approved providers. You can read more about the implementation of 2015 NDAA breastfeeding benefits here.
In light of this, you may be wondering what is available to you right now to ensure a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby. If you are currently receiving your prenatal care from a Military Treatment Facility (MTF), your MTF may offer free breastfeeding classes, lactation consultant services (in both the prenatal and postpartum periods) and breast pump rental services. Please contact your local MTF to see what is offered where you live.
If you are receiving care from an off-post provider, contact the lactation department at your local hospital to see if they have discounted breast pump rental or purchase rates for military members and their families. You may also consider seeking out a breastfeeding boutique in your local area as they, too, may provide military discounts on pumps and rentals. Many hospitals will also provide you a lactation consultant while you and baby are in the hospital and initiating breastfeeding as a standard of care. Another cost-effective option is to buy a used pump (modern breast pumps are closed systems, so milk does not enter the tubing or machine, but rather flows straight from breast, through a valve and into your selected storage container) and replace the tubing (a $25-50 cost). You can find replacement tubing kits for all major pump brands at online retailers like Amazon.
After you leave the hospital, support groups like La Leche League can provide much needed support. You can also search for other breastfeeding support groups in your local area. Breastfeeding In Combat Boots, while geared toward active-duty moms, is a great resource for navigating breastfeeding and Tricare.
If you will be PCSing while your baby is still nursing, choose a storage container that will freeze and travel well. I have traveled with up to 150 ounces of frozen breastmilk. The TSA will not open your sealed breast milk containers and you can carry it on to the plane. Just make sure you have a well-insulated bag and adequate ice packs to keep the milk frozen until you reach your destination. With a large cooler and six icepacks, I kept milk frozen from Germany to Texas. With my most recent baby, we have chosen to use the Kiinde brand Twist breast milk storage bags (www.kiinde.com or most major online retailers. However I got mine on zulily.com for 50% off!). These bags can also be used to formula feed or store and feed pureed baby foods. The nipple is also great for breastfed babies because it makes them “work” for milk like they do at the breast.
Hopefully these tips and resources can ease the establishment of a breastfeeding relationship with your new baby until Tricare determines the breadth of its breastfeeding support policies.
If you have a story to share about breastfeeding and military life, please comment below.