Cantwell Secures Top Coast Guard Admiral as Ally in Effort to Increase Healthcare Access

Tricare designation would allow Coasties and their families to receive care locally

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) enlisted Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft in her battle to provide local healthcare access to Coast Guard service-members and their families in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon.  Commandant Zukunft admitted that families should have been receiving local care and said he would work with Senator Cantwell and the Department of Defense to correct the mistake. 

Some Coast Guard families have to travel hundreds of miles – sometimes 6 hours or more round trip – to access healthcare at Military Treatment Facilities.

Recently, Senator Maria Cantwell called on Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Jonathan Woodson, urging him to designate Coast Guard units at Station Cape Disappointment, National Motor Lifeboat School, and Sector Columbia River as Tricare Prime Remote units – a designation that would significantly improve healthcare options for Coast Guard families in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon.

“The Coast Guard’s most important asset is the men and women of the Coast Guard, and their families,” said Senator Cantwell. “We’re fighting to make sure that healthcare access for Coast Guard families at Cape Disappointment near Sector Astoria, get the same healthcare benefits as others stationed around the country.”

“I share in your ardor to correct that wrong,” said Commandant Zukunft. As the top-ranked officer in the Coast Guard, Zukunft’s active support is essential for a speedy resolution to the issue.

These Coast Guard families’ healthcare access hinges on their units’ Tricare designation, which governs where service-members and their families can receive care. This designation was recently changed from Tricare Prime Remote to Tricare Prime because the Department of Defense now recognizes 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 all eligible individuals, 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 Coast Guard families without access to local medical and dental care. 

Earlier this year, Cantwell met with Coast Guard families at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington where she heard directly from them about how the Tricare Prime designation – unlike Tricare Prime Remote – does not provide the unique benefits needed for families serving in rural areas, including incentives to get more private sector providers in the Tricare network.  After learning of the problem, she sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Jonathan Woodson, urging him to re-designate the affected Coast Guard units.

This is not the first time the Senator has secured significant concessions from Commandant Zukunft.  In 2015, the Commandant announced that the Coast Guard would expand maternity leave from six weeks to twelve weeks, after sustained pressure from the Cantwell.