HERE WE GO AGAIN
For several years, AUSA, its partners in The Military Coalition and some in Congress successfully fought the Defense Department’s attempts to increase some TRICARE fees and co-pays. Therefore, we were relieved when Defense Secretary Robert Gates fully funded TRICARE in the last two budget cycles. However, that relief may be coming to an end.
A recent article in USA Today confirmed our suspicions that the fight to prevent fees increases is not over. Deputy Director of TRICARE, Rear Adm. Christine Hunter said that surging costs are prompting the Pentagon and Congress to consider out-of-pocket fee increases for military retirees and some active-duty families.
The article states that Pentagon spending on health care has increased from $19 billion in 2001 to a projected $50.7 billion in 2011, a 167% increase. Rear Adm. Hunter said that the rapid rise is due to a surge in mental health and physical problems for troops who have been deployed multiple times and by a flood of career military retirees fleeing less-generous civilian health programs. (Imagine that - military retirees using their earned benefit!)
We can’t say we haven’t seen the warning signs of a possible increase. Secretary Gates told Congress in February that increased health care costs are “beginning to eat us alive”. Also, at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Chairman Jim Webb, D-Va., and ranking Republican Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., acknowledged concerns over rising personnel costs, particularly for health care. Each noted that TRICARE fees haven’t been raised on beneficiaries since 1995. Sen. Graham said "I want to be generous and fair to all those who serve, but there's a cost containment problem. I don't see how we can sustain this forever, where TRICARE is never subject to adjustment in terms of the premiums to be paid."
Good news as far as the Pentagon is concerned. Rear Adm. Hunter said, “The difference this year is that we see members of Congress saying we need to have a thoughtful discussion.”
At a reception for the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Retiree Council over the weekend, AUSA Vice President for Education LTG Theodore Stroup, USA, Ret., acknowledged that we are not "out of the woods yet" with regards to fee increases.
He said that in Army and AUSA analyses of the retiree population that the average retiree is an E-7 with 20 years of service. “There are more E-7s in the retiree [population] than lieutenant colonels from the reserve components and active force.”
What that means is that proposed increases in TRICARE fees and co-pays would “take one month of retiree pay before federal and state taxes are deducted from that E-7."
AUSA's position: "Don’t put that on the back of enlisted retirees. We don’t believe it’s the right thing to do. Retiree healthcare is not the place to look for cost savings,” Stroup said.
AUSA and its Military Coalition partners are vigilant and have already begun to engage the Congress and make sure our message is heard. It is critical that you add your voice to ours by visiting our website, www.ausa.org and send our suggested message to Congress. Click on Contact Congress, enter your zip code and then click on the AUSA-proposed letter titled, “Support H.R. 816, the Military Retirees’ Healthcare Protection Act”. Clearly it is Congress that we must continue to influence.
HOUSE AND SENATE PASS LEGISLATION THAT AIDS VETERANS AND THEIR CAREGIVERS
The House and Senate approved legislation last week on an omnibus veterans’ health care measure, S.1963, The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. The measure combines a number of AUSA-supported bills from both the House and Senate.
Included in the legislation is a provision that provides assistance to caregivers of injured veterans. The legislation expands two caregiver support programs: one for caregivers of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another for caregivers of other veterans. Both groups would be eligible for training and education assistance, counseling and mental health services, and respite care, including 24-hour in-home respite care.
Caregivers of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans will be eligible for lodging and subsistence payments when accompanying patients on medical visits. They also will receive health care through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and a monthly financial stipend. The bill gives the VA secretary more hiring flexibility to recruit and retain VA health care professionals.
The bill also expands and improves VA services for the 1.8 million women veterans currently receiving VA health care. This bill seeks to build a VA health care system respectful of the unique medical needs of women veterans and authorizes the VA to provide health care for newborn infants of women veterans.
Also included in the bill is a provision that will address veteran homelessness. The bill would expand the number of places where homeless veterans may receive supportive services.
S. 1963 includes key provisions to improve the health care provided to rural veterans by authorizing stronger partnerships with community providers and the Department of Health and Human Services. These collaborations will allow VA to offer health care options to service members living far from the nearest VA medical facility. S. 1963 also requires the VA to establish a grant program for veteran service organizations to provide transportation options to veterans living in highly rural areas.
The bill also addresses the reality of post-traumatic stress and incidents of suicide among the veteran population. It requires a study on veterans’ suicide and requires the VA to provide counseling referrals for members of the Armed Forces who are not otherwise eligible for readjustment counseling.
The legislation is now headed to the President for signature. AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition will be pushing the VA to implement these important initiatives as soon a possible.
DO YOUR PART AND SAVE UP TO 66% ON PRESCRIPTIONS
The USA Today article on increasing health care costs talked about other factors that are driving up military costs. One of those factors is the nearly 200,000 prescriptions that were filled each day at civilian pharmacies last year.
One way you can help save money for yourself and the Defense Department is to use the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy. It offers beneficiaries a way to save money and time by having medications delivered to their home. When beneficiaries chose home delivery, they receive up to a 90-day supply for the same co-pay as a 30-day supply from the retail pharmacy.
It is a win-win situation for the beneficiary and the Defense Department. DoD pays 30 to 40 percent less for prescriptions filled through the mail-order service compared to retail pharmacies. It could save them about $24 million a year if just 1 percent of prescriptions were shifted from retail to mail order.
Mail-order pharmacy is recommended for maintenance medications for such conditions as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes. Beneficiaries may also use the mail-order service for prescriptions they routinely use like allergy medications. For prescriptions such as antibiotics or pain medications, beneficiaries may chose to fill the prescription at military treatment facilities or local retail pharmacies.
Beneficiaries may enroll in the mail-order pharmacy by mail or online. New prescriptions and refills may be filled by telephone, mail or online.
For more information on the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy Program and how to enroll visit www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy/tmop_order.cfm. Beneficiaries may get a registration form by calling 1-877-363-1303 or by visiting the Express Scripts Web site, www.expressscripts.com/TRICARE.