Legislative Newsletter Update 22 March 2010 

3/22/2010 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 



       
 

In this issue:

  • House Approves Legislation to Protect TRICARE
  • Progress on SBP-DIC Legislation?
  • Medicare/TRICARE Payment Cut Deadline Approaches (Again)
  • Military Pay/Suicide Topics at House Hearing
 

★★★


HOUSE APPROVES LEGISLATION TO PROTECT TRICARE


A BIG AUSA tip of the hat goes to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., for introducing legislation on Friday which explicitly states that TRICARE and nonappropriated fund (NAF) health plans meet all of the health care requirements for individual health insurance.  This technical correction will ensure TRICARE beneficiaries don’t suffer any inadvertent penalties under the language of national health care reform legislation passed by the House yesterday. 

While beneficiaries of these programs will already meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance and will not be required to purchase additional coverage, H.R. 4887, The TRICARE Affirmation Act, would provide clarification by changing the tax code to state it in law.  The bill was approved in the House by a vote of 403 to 0.

At the bill’s introduction, Rep. Skelton said, “It is a commonly known fact that I oppose the health care reform bill as it exists currently and will vote against it tomorrow.  But, my duty as the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee compels me to ensure that the health care of our brave service men and women, our military retirees, and all of their family members is protected if the bill does indeed pass.

“In the health care bill currently under consideration in Congress, TRICARE and the Non-Appropriated Fund health plans, the programs that provide health care for these individuals, will meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance coverage, and no TRICARE or NAF health plan beneficiary will be required to purchase additional coverage beyond what they already have.

“However, to reassure our military service members and their families and make it perfectly clear that they will not be negatively affected by this legislation, my bill, H.R. 4887, explicitly states in law that these health plans meet the minimum requirements for individual health insurance.

“Our brave men and women in uniform provide us with first-class protection, and it is our obligation to provide them—and their families—with first-class health care in return. Every day, our troops risk their lives to stand up for us on the battlefield, and I now ask my colleagues—no matter what your position may be on health care reform itself—to join me in standing up for our service members and their families." 

In addition to the legislation, Skelton, along with Reps. Bob Filner, Chairman, Committee on Veterans Affairs; George Miller, Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor; Sander Levin, Chairman, Committee on Ways and Means; and Henry Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the Committee on Rules advising that they reviewed the health care reform bills to assess the impact of the bills on the health care provided by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The letter stated, “Our reviews of H.R. 3590 and H.R. 4872 lead us to believe that the intent of the bills was never to undermine or change the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs operation of their health care programs or interfere with the care that our service members receive under TRICARE.  However, we commit to look into this issue further to ensure that no unintended consequences may arise and to take any legislative action that may be necessary.”

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., thanked Rep. Skelton for his unwavering support of the military and their families. 


PROGRESS ON SBP-DIC LEGISLATION?

On March 15, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced a discharge petition on the AUSA-supported H.R. 775, a bill that would repeal the offset of VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments from Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities. 

A discharge petition, used only on rare occasions, is a procedure by which a bill in the House of Representatives may be forced out of a committee (discharged) that has refused to report it for consideration by the House.  If at least 216 of the more than 300 cosponsors of H.R. 775 sign the petition, the House will have to vote on this important legislation.

Under current law, the surviving spouse of an active or retired servicemember who dies from a service-caused condition is entitled to $1154 a month in DIC from the VA.  If the military retiree was also enrolled in the SBP, DIC is deducted from the surviving spouse's SBP annuity.

The problem here is not that members of the House don’t support H.R. 775, they do.  As is the case in so many of the items on AUSA’s legislative agenda, it’s finding the money ($7 billion in mandatory spending) to pay for it. 

In any event, AUSA thanks Rep. Jones for filing the discharge petition that will at least move the legislation forward. 

You can help by urging your U.S. Representative to sign the petition.  Go to the AUSA website, www.ausa.org, click on “Contact Congress”, type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”, and scroll down to “Sign the SBP-DIC Discharge Petition.”

 
MEDICARE/TRICARE PAYMENT CUT DEADLINE APPROACHES (AGAIN)


The Senate recently passed a 6-month fix (until Oct. 1) that would prevent the 21 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE payments to physicians.  The provision was included in the Tax Extenders Act of 2009 (H.R. 4213).

If the House makes any changes to the legislation, House and Senate leaders will have to work out any differences and the bill will have to be passed again in both chambers.  Complicating matters is the two-recess that starts at the end of this week.  Therefore, the House must act immediately.  Please go to the AUSA website, www.ausa.org, click on “Contact Congress”, type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”, scroll down to “Fix the 21% Medicare/TRICARE Cut” and urge your representative to act now.


MILITARY PAY/SUICIDE TOPICS AT HOUSE HEARING


Although the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness told a House panel that “you can’t pay people enough,” he and the service personnel chiefs said the armed forces would be better off in spending more on quality of life programs than raising pay by half a percentage point.

Dr. Clifford Stanley told the House Armed Services Personnel subcommittee members that it was now a matter of “how much can we pay.”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., agreed that she and other committee members “want to make sure it’s fair,” but told the witnesses “there’s probably going to be some pushback from Congress” if the raise stays at the 1.9 percent level requested by the administration.

“Nobody is going to turn down a pay raise,” LTG Thomas Bostick, G-1, said, but he put the cost for the next fiscal year at $200 million if the raise is 2.4 percent.  He said that since 1999 the gap between military pay and civilian pay has been cut from 13 percent to 2½ percent.

Looking at the force overall after nine years of war, Stanley and the personnel chiefs said they were meeting or exceeding all goals in recruiting and retention and quality but Stanley asked that pilot programs – such as the recruiter incentive pay, home ownership pay and bonuses for military accessions necessary to the national defense – remain as law, even though no money would be appropriated for them now.

The temporary shutdown of the My Career Advancement account program for spouses shows “the need is great than we anticipated,” Stanley said.  It was “an unexpected good thing,” and DoD is looking at other programs that could complement MyCAA.  The second phase of the program begins April 1.

When questioned about suicides, LTG Bostick said the Army is stressing prevention.  He said the service has hired 250 suicide prevention counselors and is adding substance abuse counselors as well.  Unfortunately, recruitment of counselors is slow for several reasons.  Remote locations and the fact that the Army is trying to draw them from an already small group of trained professionals.  LTG Bostick said the Army is conducting an internal study to determine what the right number of counselors should be.

He added the Army is also about to begin studying the role of women in the Army and expect a report back to the chief of staff and Army secretary around July 1.  The study includes interviewing commanders and having the Training and Doctrine Command working with the branch proponents in assessing military occupation specialties now closed to women but could be opened without changing the law barring them from direct ground combat.

“Warfare is changing,” Stanley said, and sometime in the future, “I can see a woman at the top.”