|03-22-2006, 08:12 AM||#1 (permalink)|
MSgt USMC Ret
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: San Diego
No retirees’ Tricare fee hikes — for now
By Rick Maze
Times staff writer
In a major concession, the Defense Department has told Tricare contractors to cancel plans for an Oct. 1 increase in health care fees for military retirees under age 65.
Defense officials have not given up on their basic proposal, which calls for fee hikes of as much as $1,500 a year for working-age retirees using the military health care system. But they now seem to recognize that fierce opposition from military and veterans’ groups and growing concern in Congress have made an Oct. 1 effective date for the increases virtually impossible.
Last week, the Republican chairman and Democratic ranking member of the Senate Armed Services personnel panel promised military associations they would not support the fee increases until an independent audit of the military health care system is completed to determine if there are other ways to cut increasing health care costs.
Additionally, the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee have announced they oppose the Tricare fee increases, and a bipartisan bill was introduced in the House to block any increases without specific congressional approval.
That bill, sponsored by Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., already has 77 cosponsors.
“It is just recognition of reality,” Steve Strobridge of the Military Officers Association of America said about the Pentagon’s message to Tricare contractors. “The Department of Defense really didn’t have a choice.”
“That is great news,” said Joyce Raezer of the National Military Family Association. “We had hoped Congress would send a message to DoD to slow this thing down. They went too fast.”
The Pentagon’s proposed fee increases, still being reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, would increase enrollment fees, copayments and deductibles for military retirees under the age of 65 and their families. Increases would be based on pay grade, and would apply to both Tricare Prime and Tricare Standard, with a maximum increase of $1,500 a year.
Defense officials have defended their proposal as necessary to hold down escalating expenses so health care does not squeeze higher budget priorities such as weapons modernization.
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