10 December 2012 Legislative News Update 

12/10/2012 

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




In this issue:

  • FY13 Defense Authorization Clears Senate

★★★
 

FY13 DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION CLEARS SENATE

By a vote of 98-0, the Senate passed the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill last week.  The legislation would authorize $631.4 billion in discretionary funds for defense activities: $525.8 billion for the base Defense Department budget, $88.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations and $17.4 billion for the Energy Department and other national security programs related to nuclear safety.  The House defense bill (H.R. 4310), passed in May, would authorize $635.3 billion, about $4 billion more than the president’s request and $8 billion more than called for under the 2011 debt limit law.  

In the good news category, not included in the bill is the Pentagon’s plan to significantly raise enrollment fees and deductibles for working-age retirees, including income-based enrollment fees for TRICARE Prime and TRICARE for Life.  This means that the fee increase for 2013 will be no more than 1.7 percent, the same amount as the COLA.

However, in the bad news column:  Despite an intensive lobbying effort from AUSA, its members and partners in The Military Coalition, senators shot down an amendment that would have precluded the Pentagon’s drastic increases in pharmacy co-pays.  The amendment, offered by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would have capped TRICARE pharmacy copays well below those proposed by the Pentagon;  and capped the annual percentage increase in future pharmacy copays to no more than the COLA in return for a one-year requirement for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries to use the mail-order system for maintenance medication refills.  

Specifically, it was Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who raised objections to the amendment at the last minute when amendments were only being approved by unanimous consent.  Their objection killed the amendment.  Accordingly, the Senate’s bill is silent on the pharmacy co-pay issue which would allow the Pentagon to implement its plan.

“This is paid for, but it is smoke and mirrors,” Coburn said.  “We have used a trick ... that will require (more funding for) the health account ... which means we will not have $1.7 billion for naval exercises, for flight training, for tank training, for range training.”

McCain reiterated former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ claim that “health care costs are eating us alive.”

AUSA’s position:  If health care costs are “eating us alive” then why has the Defense Department been able to reprogram defense health care dollars to other “higher priority items” for the past several years?  If you recall, the Defense Department’s most recent reprogramming request to Congress included an appeal to reprogram $708 million in excess funds from the Defense Health Program.  The request stated that “funds are available because of a significant downward spike in the private sector care (PSC) cost growth rates.  Through the first 6 months of FY 2012, private sector care costs are growing at historically low rates of 0.6 percent for active duty and -2.7 percent for all other beneficiaries.”

Further, as far as Sen. Coburn’s concern about funding for training, we were astonished to hear him tell the hosts of a morning show the day after the authorization bill passed that “at least $50-60 billion could be cut each year from the DoD budget without hurting the defense of the country.”

AUSA will strongly press the Senate to adopt the House’s version.  The House plan, while not perfect, is much better than the proposal being pushed by the Pentagon (and apparently, the Senate).

Also included in the bill is an amendment that would clarify the computation of combat-related special compensation for disability retirees.  The provision corrects an inadvertent anomaly in the statutory Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) language that has the effect of denying any CRSC payment to many combat-disabled retirees forced into medical retirement.

The Senate also approved a plan to establish a DoD BRAC-style commission to recommend "modernizing" the military compensation and retirement systems.  The provision would require an up-or-down vote by Congress, without any amendments.  This process would significantly restrict oversight and debate by the Armed Services Committees and subcommittees who have extensive knowledge and expertise on military compensation and retiree issues.  AUSA adamantly opposes short-circuiting the normal legislative process on issues of such vital concern to long-term retention and readiness.

A Senate provision that would enhance DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental health programs and services was included in the bill.  With rising numbers of military suicides and veterans facing long wait times to receive needed PTSD treatment, it is vital that this provision be included in the final bill.

The Senate passed language that would allow Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy coverage for beneficiaries with non-autism spectrum disorder diagnoses.  

An amendment that makes it a federal crime for someone to falsely claim to have served in the military or have received a military decoration if the object of the lie is for personal gain was included.  

The Senate also included a provision that would allow but not require some over-the counter drugs to be provided at government expense to beneficiaries if they are clinically effective and more cost-effective than prescription drugs.  

Agreement on a final bill has not been reached.  A House-Senate conference committee will meet this week to work out any differences between the two versions.  AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has already sent a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership outlining our position on the various provisions.