Tricare increase worrisome for veterans
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October 08, 2009 3:30 AM

Military veterans in Jacksonville are reeling after an announcement from the Department of Defense that hospitalization co-payments for retirees covered by Tricare Standard will increase more than 20 percent.

The hike would bump daily rates for hospitalization for retirees and their family members from $535 to $645 a day, or 25 percent of billed charges if less. Active duty military will also see a slight hike, with fees of $16.30 per day, up from $15.65. The per-diem fee will cease once total visit costs reach $3,000.

The announcement came Oct. 1, directly following a several-year congressional freeze on rate increases that ended Sept. 30.

“It’s disenchanting to say the least,” said Dan Joy, who retired after 21 years of infantry work in the Marine Corps.

Joy, who uses Tricare benefits, said he volunteers his time driving people to the VA hospital, and sees many who already cannot afford Tricare coverage.

“You think you’ve had a bad day until you’ve seen what some of these veterans are up against,” he said.

What compounds the bad news, he said, is that no cost-of-living increase will accompany the rate hikes. Joy noted that many veterans have greater healthcare needs than the retiree population at large.

“Your body tends to get beat up a little bit more when you’re a ground-pounder,” he said.

Randy Reichler, the retired activities coordinator aboard Camp Lejeune, wrote in an e-mail that he was shocked to see the rate hike come so fast, noting that retirees have successfully fought an increase in Tricare Prime premiums for threee years.

Mike Fresia, the adjutant for the Jacksonville chapter of Disabled American Veterans and a military retiree himself, said that assurances from the White House and the DoD earlier this year that no Tricare fees would increase next year “kind of lulled the veteran community to sleep.”

Fresia said he was concerned that the rate increase would result in an unexpected influx of patients frequenting local VA hospitals rather than paying the higher fees.

Reichler said he thought that an increase in patient flow to VA hospitals would be slight, limited by regional access to VA medical facilities. To assist military retirees facing hardship due to the rate increase, he said his office would provide information on the new rates to local veterans organizations along with how to contact legislators about the situation. He said the office will also provide referrals to military relief services if needed.

Col. Paul O’Toole, vice president of the Onslow County Council of Veterans Organizations, said he has been telling retirees to get in touch with Congressmen and Senators from “back home” to maximize lobbying impact.

Even though the rate hike took many in the community by surprise, Fresia said the veterans would continue to defend their benefits.

“When you add up all the veterans communities together, we do have a large voice,” he said.

Contact Hope Hodge at 910-219-8453 or