AUSA spent much of last year fighting mass email traffic which warned of impending legislation that would cut TRICARE for Life benefits for military retirees. Specifically, the emails said that President Obama and his Administration had placed a priority on cutting TRICARE for Life benefits to pay for other programs.
The original email outlined options that were included in a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in December 2008. Budget options are put out by the CBO every two years regardless of administration. They are not legislative proposals and they are not administration goals. The CBO’s mandate is to provide the Congress with objective, nonpartisan, and timely analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions on the wide array of programs covered by the federal budget.
The latest version of this email changed the title and the introductory language but contained the same unfounded warnings. Only this time, it is the health care reform legislation that would make these drastic cuts.
The bottom line: Options contained in the CBO report were flatly rejected by Congress. TRICARE and TRICARE for Life were fully funded in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act signed by the President in October. The health care reform bill passed by the House poses no threat to current health care benefits provided to military families, retirees or veterans. As this column is being written, nothing in the Senate bill would harm the benefit either.
In fact, the House bill (H.R. 3962) states in Section 311 that "nothing" in the bill "shall be construed as affecting" authorities used by the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs to provide TRICARE programs or VA health care benefits.
However, we must not assume budgetary threats against TRICARE are over. There will probably be another attempt to increase TRICARE fees and copays in the fiscal 2011 defense budget. The Pentagon has long advocated for increases, but Congress has repeatedly rebuffed those politically unpopular initiatives. With military health care costs spiraling upward and placing increased pressure on other parts of the Pentagon’s budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is hoping to persuade Congress to look again at raising fees.
Gates didn’t mince his words when he said that “health care is eating the department alive” and that “part of the problem is we cannot get any relief from the Congress in terms of increasing either co-pays or the premiums.” The message cannot be any clearer that we will spend much of this year fighting to preserve the benefit.
AUSA closely monitors any issues related to health care whether it is active duty, retired, Reserve Components or VA and takes immediate action as necessary. AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has sent several letters to Congress on this subject and has discussed it with his many contacts on Capitol Hill. However, it never hurts to reinforce his message. Go to AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org, click on the “Contact Congress” button at the top of the page and enter your zip code. We have several AUSA-suggested letters related to health care that you can send to your elected representatives. Your voice does make a difference. It’s Congress that we must continue to influence.
The Military Health Care Update will appear in AUSA News periodically.