[HEALTH.MIL] Battle Over Military Health-Care Premiums Slows - For Now

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  • Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2011 16:00:28 -0600

Battle Over Military Health-Care Premiums Slows - For Now

By Lisa Rein, Published: December 5







Now that the sweeping defense authorization bill for 2012 has passed the Senate
and House, the fight over Tricare, the health insurance plan for the military,
has reached a truce - for the moment.


House and Senate negotiators are working out differences in the defense
authorization bill before it goes to President Obama, but Tricare is not among
the contested issues.


As of Oct. 1, retirees of working age saw their annual health-care premiums jump
to $520, up from $460 for families, and to $260, up from $230 for individuals.
Pharmacy co-payments also rose between $2 and $3 each, bringing them closer to
parity with federal employee health plans such as BlueCross BlueShield. (Those
enrolled before Oct. 1 were grandfathered at the old rate for one year, while
those enrolling after Oct. 1 pay the higher rate.)


The increases were the result of a lengthy campaign by the Defense Department to
slash health-care and other personnel costs by billions of dollars. Tricare fees
had not changed in 17 years. 


The Defense Department is authorized to raise fees without approval from
Congress, but Congress passed legislation for three years running that blocked
any increase. This year, there was no such bill.


Service groups initially opposed any increase, then relented. The debate shifted
to how high Tricare fees for military-age retirees should climb in the future. 


Language approved by both chambers would cap increases at the rate of the
cost-of-living adjustment in retired military pay, which has ranged in recent
years from zero to 5.8 percent, according to the Military Officers Association
of America.


But a last-minute effort last week by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to convince the
Senate to raise fees higher died. McCain proposed, then withdrew, an amendment
that would have tied future increases to the annual growth in health-care costs.
That growth is estimated at 6 percent per year. The Pentagon, too, had favored
tying the increase to health-care costs.


The debate is likely to come up again with the next budget, with the Pentagon
pushing for higher fees and service groups pushing to keep them where they are.


"What has gone through, we think is reasonable and fair," said Steve Strobridge,
director of government relations for MOAA. "But the fees shouldn't go up any
more than your pay does."


The Obama administration, meanwhile, announced plans last fall to set up a board
similar to the base realignment commission (BRAC) to make long-term reforms to
the military retirement system. 


The administration is proposing to introduce annual fees to Tricare for Life, a
Medicare supplement entitlement for military retirees and their dependents who
are older than 65. 




SOURCE:  Washington Post article at



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