In the Military? Out of Luck for a Free Breast Pump.

In the Military? Out of Luck for a Free Breast Pump. Being a military “dependent”, we are offered nearly the same kind of coverage as our spouses, with also the ability to pay more to be seen off post. This means our insurance (United Healthcare, TriWest, TriCare) covers 100% of any procedure done on a military base, but to choose your own doctor and go off base means deductibles and co-pays. It also means that our insurance tends to cover and not cover things as they choose to.

The Affordable Care Act signed in breast pumps as a covered medical device for moms who breastfeed. With a baby due in a few weeks, I thought I’d take a look at some choices to make this time around easier. I’d had an incredibly rough experience with my daughter Bella, and 15 months of breastfeeding was mostly painful. Perhaps a good pump would help this time.

After an article I wrote caught the attention of several women who worked with breastfeeding companies, they offered to help me navigate the world of insurance and pumps to pick the best for my needs. Surprisingly, time and again on the sites my insurance wasn’t listed. I thought this was because it wasn’t a public one – you can’t join if you aren’t military.  So I’d have to contact my insurance directly.

Calling United Healthcare confirmed what I was starting to think – government insurance is exempt from having to pay for breast pumps. Period. Spouses, active duty, retired. The only way they will cover is if your situation fits this, taken from page 60 of the TriCare Provider Handbook:

“Breast pumps: Heavy-duty, hospital-grade electric breast pumps (including services and supplies related to the use of the pump) for mothers of premature infants are covered. An electric breast pump is covered while the premature infant remains hospitalized during the immediate postpartum period. Hospital-grade electric breast pumps may also be covered after the premature infant is discharged from the hospital with a physician-documented medical reason, such as the inability to breast feed. This documentation is also required for premature infants delivered in non-hospital settings. Breast pumps of any type, when used for reasons of personal convenience (e.g., to facilitate a mother’s return to work), are excluded even if prescribed by a physician. Manual breast pumps and basic (non- hospital grade) electric pumps are also excluded.”

This was updated June 1, 2013, nearly a year after the ACA was signed in.

Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No, not really. The military isn’t the most breastfeeding friendly employer in the world. I know that after a pregnancy, women have 6 months to pass a fitness test again. In some cases this means significant weight loss, which can impact breastfeeding. My husband has told me of his struggle to find somewhere other than a bathroom or closet for moms to pump on a regular basis.

This isn’t a slight at them – the military is what it is and has a long way to go before it’s more woman than man accommodating. I’m not pleased with the wording in the handbook of “personal convenience” when I’m sure any working mom knows taking a break to pump isn’t something to be thought of as a luxury – akin to laying on a beach with a margarita. It’s a big pain, and often a big struggle anyway. We have a lot of benefits covered and a lot of perks, this just happens not to be one.

So what’s a military mom to do? Well, don’t get a used pump. I know it might be tempting but it’s a risky move. Add one to your registry. Ask family to donate towards one. Compare breast pumps online.  Talk directly to the companies you’re interested in purchasing one from to see if they might offer a discount or have an upcoming sale. Look into renting a hospital grade pump.

Keep in mind that whether pumps are covered or not doesn’t determine the success of you breastfeeding your child.

Photo source and to buy:


  • Barbra says:

    This sucks. That wording above is particularly egregious. “personal convenience”?! And it isn’t just the military that is finding loopholes. One health insurance company in particular (that I know if, I’m sure there’s more) limits breast pumps to a model that is non electric and single – a cost of $30. I really really hate health insurance companies. I deal with ours too often because of our son’s health issues and that company is so very difficult. I could rail against insurance companies all day.
    Barbra recently posted..June 2013My Profile
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  • Kristin says:

    That is ridiculous! I am a Federal employee, and through my insurance I get a free double electric breast pump, plus I can order milk storage bags every 90 days for free as well. That “personal convenience” language is particularly irritating. It’s not convenient for me that I have to return to work, I have to do it because we don’t get paid maternity leave! Ugh.

  • We’re not military, but our insurance covers a manual pump only, as they consider an electric pump a “personal preference.” The wording in the ACA is very vague and allows all insurance companies to skirt around it however they can. Very disappointing, especially when I see that so many others are getting fully covered pumps and others, like you, get squat :(
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  • melissa says:

    We had to fight for me to get a pump covered for my preemies. Then the pump I was able to get to use wasn’t a very good one and the LC at the NICU told me I was already struggling enough so I really should use a different one. Had to rent that one out of pocket since it wasn’t covered (it was the Symphony that they wanted me to use, which most hospitals use). We are also Military and some of the stuff TriCare does makes me go hmmmm. Like they would want to cover a nutritionist for my girls but if they were diabetic would, so they’d rather them end up failure to thrive than cover it. Also lots of other things that if they would cover it would save them lots of money in the long run

  • I think the “convenience” wording is was ticks me off the most. Like you said, pumping is nowhere near a fun, free time at the office (or at home). I’d like to hook up a breast pump to the idiot who wrote that section and see how they feel it’s a convenience after a 20 minute session.
    Jennifer @ Also Known As…the Wife recently posted..State of the Weight Wednesday: Week 8, no, 9!My Profile

  • Danielle says:

    This doesn’t really make since. Don’t most military parents qualify for a government program such as WIC? WIC will cover a breast pump for moms so your still getting one from the government but not your employers insurance (aka the government). You would think they would just cover it the first time and not make you go around the system.

  • Danielle says:

    This may seem strange, but some WIC offices “rent” electric pumps. I don’t think you need to be receiving WIC checks either. I say rent, but it’s free, so it’s more like borrowing and the one I used was a Medela and they even gave me all new tubs and cups etc. Wouldn’t hurt to call up your local or what will be your local office and ask.

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