Cantwell, Coast Guard Announce Improved Health Care Access for Coast Guard Families in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul F. Zukunft announced that Coast Guard families in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon will now have greater access to health care providers.

Specifically, Coast Guard dependents of active duty members stationed at Station Cape Disappointment, the National Motor Lifeboat School, and the Sector Columbia River area will be eligible to enroll in the TRICARE Prime Remote health plan, allowing families to seek out-of-network care, which is of critical importance in remote areas where TRICARE coverage is poor. Without this designation, Coast Guard families have experienced difficulty accessing health care for their families and some had been traveling over a hundred miles – sometimes 6 hours or more round trip – to access health care.

“Coast Guard members stationed in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon protect our people, our environment and our economy every day. I applaud the Coast Guard for working with me to make sure these Coast Guard families can receive the health care they deserve, where they live and serve,” said Senator Cantwell. 

Due to the remoteness of the region, Coast Guard families’ health care access hinges on their units’ TRICARE designation, which governs where Coast Guard families may receive care. In 2015, the TRICARE designation of these Coast Guard units was changed from TRICARE Prime Remote to TRICARE Prime because the Department of Defense recognized the Sector Columbia River Medical/Dental Clinic as a Military Treatment Facility. While Military Treatment Facilities are intended to deliver medical and dental care to active duty members, families and retirees, Sector Columbia River Medical/Dental Clinic is unable to offer full services to families due to a lack of space, staff, and resources – leaving many families without access to local medical and dental care. 

In 2016, Cantwell met with Coast Guard families at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington where she learned about the challenges families face when seeking health care in the region. Cantwell went to work with the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense Health Agency to fix the issue.

After pressure from Cantwell, the Department of Defense added 16 primary care providers to the TRICARE network in the Sector Columbia River region. However, families were clear that even with the additions access had not improved, and independent data revealed that many of the providers in the area were not accepting new patients, did not meet TRICARE standards for care, and were specialists rather than primary care providers. Wait times for these few providers often ranged from one to three months. For children, wait times ranged from two to seven months, which represents an unacceptable burden on Coast Guard members and their families.

Despite the Department of Defense’s efforts, Cantwell continued to pressure the Coast Guard to fully address Coast Guard families’ access to health care. In two separate hearings, Cantwell enlisted the help of Admiral Zukunft to restore access to adequate healthcare for Coast Guard families stationed in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon.

Today’s announcement is in large part due to the continued efforts of Senator Cantwell.

"Many thanks to Senator Cantwell for her continued support of the Coast Guard and our over 1,000 Astoria area families who now enjoy better access to quality healthcare.  Her personal attention to this matter is a great example of the tremendous support Congressional members provide to keep our service members and their families Semper Paratus - Always Ready,” said Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant Pf the U.S. Coast Guard.

Cantwell is a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, and has used her position to ensure Coast Guard families receive the benefits they deserve. In June of 2016, after pressure from Cantwell, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, announced that the Coast Guard would expand paid maternity leave from six weeks to twelve weeks. Cantwell also secured an amendment to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2015 to expand the Combat Related Special Compensation program to cover more Coast Guard men and women. Combat related special compensation provides post service financial benefits for service members with disabilities from injuries sustained from certain activities during active duty service.