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: Amazon.com