Monday, July 15, 2013

House Okays Some Changes to TRICARE, Rejects Military Pay Cap

TRICARE, also known as the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS), provides civilian health benefits for military personnel, vets and their dependents. As the defense budget continues to be slashed, many vet advocates have expressed concern that TRICARE would be affected. But the House armed services subcommittee on military personnel rejected the White House's plan to substantially increase TRICARE fees over the next five years for military retirees and their families. It also rejected a proposal to vary the fees, based on individual retiree's pay levels.

The House panel did agree to allow a $4 co-pay increase for retirees and their family members below the age of 65 for outpatient care. Doctor visit co-pays are slated to increase to $16, while the co-pay for mental health care visits will stay at $12. The $4 increase is expected to save funds for health programs and medical research. The Department of Defense has not been authorized to increase any additional TRICARE fees.

The Secretary of Defense along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff had pushed for higher TRICARE fees to save fund for supplies, training, maintenance, and weapons procurement from being slashed. But resistance to boosting fees or capping pay from bipartisan members of the House Armed Services Committee has so far kept fees low. Additionally, Defense officials have reportedly overstated health care costs to the tune of $400 million a year, on average, to fund other defense accounts.

President Obama may decide to cap the military pay raise regardless of congressional approval by declaring a national emergency or claiming that "serious economic conditions" make it necessary, and presenting "alternative pay adjustment" plans to Congress by the first of September. It is hoped that the White House will not decide to do so, as there is currently in place a proposed 1.8 percent raise for military pay as of January 2013.

The Department of Defense currently plans to roll out a plan to stop TRICARE Prime coverage for the more than 170,000 current TRICARE enrollees who live more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility.  Retirees below the age of 65 and their families will be forced to use TRICARE Standard, a more economic version of the fee-for-service program. As of October 1, TRICARE beneficiaries age 65 and up will be required to have their long-term medications filled via mail order or on base, in order to save millions of dollars a year for TRICARE that would otherwise go to local pharmacies.

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