View Full Version : Tricare fee hikes needed, task force is told

01-17-07, 09:53 AM
Tricare fee hikes needed, task force is told

By Gordon Lubold - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jan 17, 2007 6:09:17 EST

A new task force charged with looking at the future of military health care may help the Pentagon to do what it failed to do last year: convince an unreceptive Congress to increase some fees for Tricare users in order to keep the military medical system whole.

The Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare, mandated by Congress, had its first substantive meeting Tuesday, during which its 14 members were briefed on the issues confronting the Defense Department’s health care system.

Senior Pentagon officials gave the task force an earful. The prognosis for the health care system is grim, said David S.C. Chu, the Pentagon’s personnel chief, unless higher fees — which would be aimed mostly at “working age” retirees, those under age 65 — aren’t implemented, and soon.

The Pentagon is already trying to increase efficiencies within the system and implement better business practices to save money. But that won’t do it alone, Chu told the group.

“It’s our conclusions that the current business practices do not lead to a sustainable benefit over the long term,” he said.

If Congress doesn’t allow the Pentagon to “rebalance” the ratio of costs paid by the department and by beneficiaries, and charge beneficiaries more for the services they use, then the health care that all military members and dependents receive will suffer, he said.

Last March, Chu said the percentage of health care costs covered by beneficiaries had shrunk from 27 percent in 1995 to a current level of about 12 percent.

At that time, the Pentagon was putting forth an ambitious program to fix the long-term viability of the Tricare program, considered by defense officials to be one of the best health care programs in the nation.

The thrust of the proposal was to increase some Tricare enrollment fees and deductibles for retirees under age 65. Defense officials argued that the fee structure has not been significantly changed in more than a decade — even as health care costs have consistently shot upward — and that the only way to continue offering a high level of service is to make those changes.

But the plan drew sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who did not want to tinker with fees, and the proposal was dropped.

Chu acknowledged that politics played a role in the Pentagon’s failure to articulate its message properly, and that they had introduced the proposal at an already fractious time in national politics, as debate raged about the war in Iraq.

“There was a deep reluctance to make a change,” Chu said.

Pentagon officials won’t acknowledge if they’ll be back again with a similar proposal when President Bush’s fiscal 2008 defense budget is released Feb. 5. But if so, the task force, which Chu said can play a role in building consensus on this and other issues, may help grease the skids in Congress. For now, the group is simply learning the challenges facing the Pentagon, members said.

The group will meet again Feb. 6.


01-22-07, 02:41 PM
Lawmakers move to block Tricare fee hikes

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jan 22, 2007 12:34:59 EST

A bill preventing the Defense Department from increasing Tricare premiums for reservists, retirees and their families was introduced Friday by two champions of military benefits.

Reps. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced the Military Retirees Healthcare Protection Act just days after Pentagon officials renewed their calls for increasing Tricare premiums, deductibles and co-payments for some beneficiaries to deal with the military’s rising health care costs.

Edwards and Jones said they believe there are alternatives to making beneficiaries pay more.

Edwards, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction and veterans affairs, said, “I believe that keeping our promise of quality, affordable health care for military retirees is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Our nation has a moral obligation to keep our promises to those who have kept their promise to defend our nation. It is the smart thing to do because we cannot attract the best and brightest to fight our war on terrorism in the years ahead if they see us breaking faith with those who served in years past.”

Jones, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the bill “is about offering protection for the men and women who are willing to protect our nation from its enemies, and keeping promises to those who have promised to put themselves in harm’s way when called upon.”

“The families of our armed forces deserve consistent health care benefits,” Jones said.

Last year, the Bush administration proposed to double and triple Tricare premiums for “working-age” retirees, those under age 65, but Congress blocked the move, ordering more study. That has not stopped the Pentagon from pursing higher fees, which is why Edwards and Jones made a point of introducing their bill before the administration sends its fiscal 2008 budget to Congress.

The bill, HR 579, prohibits increases in enrollment fees for Tricare Prime and Tricare Reserve Select, in pharmacy co-pays and in co-pays for inpatient care unless Congress specifically approves such fees. The bill was referred to the House Armed Services Committee.


02-01-07, 12:55 PM
Many of us who are retired and enrolled in the TriCare Prime program would have little or no objection to an increase in the enrollment fees for medical care provided that we can:

1. See any health care provider we wish.
2. Visit any medical facility in the country of our choosing.

Currently, I must drive over 100 miles round-trip to see a cardiologist. And, up until just recently, the nearest hospital I could utilize is 30 miles away, as opposed to the one nine-tenths of a mile from my home.
A rate increase would be acceptable to me as long as the benefits for using TriCare are also improved upon.

02-16-07, 02:59 PM
Senators move to cap Tricare fee increases

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Feb 16, 2007 13:47:57 EST

While the Bush administration appears to backpedal on a budget proposal to raise Tricare fees for military retirees and reservists, two senators — one a Democrat and one a Republican — have moved to cap fee increases.

The Department of Defense budget includes an assumption that $1.86 billion will be generated for military health care by doubling Tricare fees for senior enlisted retirees and tripling fees for retired officers.

At a Tuesday hearing, the Pentagon’s chief health official, Dr. William Winkenwerder, tried to pass off the $1.86 billion as a “placeholder” just in case an independent task force now looking at defense health care approved a fee increase. But members of Congress aren’t convinced that the Department of Defense is really open-minded about the fee increases.

If Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare does not recommend fee increase when it issues a report later this year, or if Congress does not approve of the fee increases, the health care budget would be $1.86 billion short. A final report from the task force is expected in May, about the same time that the House and Senate armed services committees will start writing their versions of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

Winkenwerder was asked if there is a backup plan if the fee increases were not approved. He said there was a plan, but did not say what it might include.

Frank R Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow but cap Tricare fee increases. Any jump in fees, deductibles and co-payments for Tricare coverage or pharmacies would be limited to the percentage increase in military pay. That would be retired pay for retirees and basic pay for active-duty members and reservists.

The bill, S 604, would not be binding, however. It asks but does not demand that the fee increases be limited, leaving open the possibility that the Department of Defense could act in defiance of Congress even if the measure passed. However, the bill is unlikely to pass on its own, so there is plenty of time to make changes, including making it binding.

Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., the House military personnel subcommittee chairman who questioned Winkenwerder about the Pentagon’s intentions on Tuesday, said he is not opposed to any fee increase, but thinks the Pentagon plan is excessive in proposing to double and triple costs in a single year


03-05-07, 06:58 PM
I am paying way to much out of pocket for surgery that I need, I thought the military gave better benefits than this everytime I go to the doctor I have to fork out tons of money that Tricare won't pick up on. Plus I had so much problems enrolling in Tricare Prime and getting told how I should enroll into dental.

03-05-07, 09:31 PM
Let me introduce myself first. I have been a participating member on this site for over two years using a different name. So for my first post with this name….

I use the VA 100% not by choice but by circumstances. Last week I went 5 times. 124 miles round trip each time so in one week that was 620 miles. I was billed for seeing 17 Doctors and had 11 prescriptions filled. And I don’t get dental, which I need badly.

I am fighting with Social Security to get on 100% disability and the DAV. I am using paralyzed veterans of America.

But long story short I can see doctors. I have to travel. I may not like some people but I am getting healthcare.