25 March 2013 Legislative News Update 

3/25/2013 

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




In this issue:

  • Congress Clears Spending Bill
  • Tuition Assistance Restored
  • TriCare For Life Is Not Free!
  • Civilian Furlough Notices Delayed

★★★

 CONGRESS CLEARS SPENDING BILL

Congress cleared a spending package last week that averts a government shutdown and gives the Defense Department some breathing room.  What has not been averted is the sequester.  It will remove an equal amount from every non-exempt program.

The bill funds most of the government through a continuation of the current continuing resolution, but also includes full Defense and Military Construction-VA bills that have adjusted spending levels for programs in order to protect high-priority programs and better manage the sequester. 

Among the provisions in the bill are those that would:

* Prohibit the Pentagon from collecting new enrollment fees for TRICARE beneficiaries;

* Prohibit DoD from spending funds on a new commission to identify the next round of potential base closures;

* Appropriate $1.5 billion in unrequested funds for National Guard and Reserve Component equipment;

* Provide funding for an across-the-board 1.7% pay increase for military personnel;

* Set a ceiling on the number of active-duty military personnel at 552,100 for the Army (9,900 less than the current level);

* Propose that the size of the active-duty Army be reduced by 72,000 between FY 2012 and FY 2017;

* Provide $2.9 billion for Defense Department dependent schools; and,

* Provide $40 million for impact aid and $5 million for impact aid for children with disabilities.

The legislation is now on the president’s desk for signature.

TUITION ASSISTANCE RESTORED

An AUSA-supported amendment offered by Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to restore funding for the military’s tuition assistance (TA) program was adopted by the Senate March 21 as part of the spending bill. 

New enrollment in tuition assistance (TA) for service members was abruptly cancelled by the Army as part of its efforts to manage severe budget cuts mandated by Congress in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

 While TA will be restored, the future program will probably be a lot different than the current program.  Eligibility rules may be tightened and the basic structure may change.  An Army Times article said that there is speculation that the Army will seek to return to the 75/25 payment model, under which the service paid 75 percent while the soldier paid the remaining 25 percent.  

Further, the legislation does not say how the cost would be covered, only that the Defense Department would have to restore funding.  Accordingly, the services are left to figure out where the money will come from.

In response to this announcement, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., said, "The Association of the United States Army supported the amendment to restore TA funding and we thank the House and the Senate -- and in particular Senator Hagan and Senator Inhofe -- for restoring tuition assistance for our soldiers who wish to pursue educational courses to improve themselves – personally and professionally --during their off-duty time while in the service or as they transition to the civilian sector during troop cutbacks.”

Adding, “Cutting tuition assistance for our soldiers – especially those who have been down range and in harm’s way – would have been a blow to the morale of our all-volunteer force, and would have had a dramatic negative impact on the Army’s recruiting and retention efforts.”

TRICARE FOR LIFE IS NOT FREE!

A column in today’s Washington Post trots out the same tired arguments with regards to the cost of TRICARE.  One assertion regarding TRICARE For Life has us particularly irritated.  

The column states that, “Once former military personnel turn 65, they are eligible for Medicare, like everyone else. But in 2002, Congress gave them “Tricare for Life” — essentially, a free Medigap plan.”

That assertion is flat out wrong!

When a military retiree and his or her spouse reach the age of eligibility, the Medicare system assumes responsibility for providing their health care.  To receive the full range of benefits that they have earned, military retirees have to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B and become subject to the same fees and regulations as those citizens who never served a day in uniform.  Military retirees and others enroll in Medicare Part A (in-patient care coverage) at no cost, but access to Medicare Part B (out-patient services) requires that they pay substantial monthly premiums.  

Annual Part B premium increases have not only been steep but have also proved highly erratic and unpredictable.  Between 2000 and 2011, the average Part B premium increase was nearly 9 percent per year, but it fluctuated considerably, reaching a high of 17.4 percent in 2005 and a low of zero in 2009—before spiking again to 14.6 percent for new enrollees in 2010.

Since 2007, Medicare Part B premiums have been “means-tested”; i.e., retirees with higher individual or family incomes pay even higher Part B rates.  Effectively, military retirees who achieved higher rank during their service or succeeded in supplementing their post-retirement incomes are penalized in the health care system for their success and have no other option for accessing their health care benefits.  

Further, even as the Part B cost trends accelerate, military retirees’ access to quality care is increasingly threatened.  In an effort to control costs, existing law has triggered a series of reductions over the past decade to the funds that reimburse health care providers for delivering care to Medicare patients.  So far, Congress has passed short-term fixes every year that temporarily postpone the cuts.  However, the continued uncertainty in the program erodes health care providers’ confidence in the system and causes a great number of them to refuse service to Medicare beneficiaries, thereby reducing the availability of quality care for military retirees and their families—especially for patients who are newly eligible.

We are grateful that Congress recognized the need for the TRICARE For Life program and that they continue to protect it from those who seek to solve budget issues on the backs of our military retirees.  

CIVILIAN FURLOUGH NOTICES DELAYED

The Pentagon announced last week that they will delay the issuance of civilian employee furlough notices for approximately two weeks.  

A statement said that the delay would allow the Pentagon to carefully analyze the impact of the continuing resolution legislation on the department's resources.  It further states that they have not made any decisions on whether or not the total number of planned furlough days for fiscal 2013 will change as a result of this delay.

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., is not happy about the way federal civilians are being yanked around.  He feels that they are being demonized as a too highly paid, unnecessarily large work force, and is seen by many as a convenient cost containment target whose pay has been frozen by Congress for the last several years and who now face furloughs.  

‘Our federal civilian work force soldiers on -without pay raises and with the enormous uncertainty that the potential furlough action brings to their already frozen pay checks.  In addition to the immediate financial impact on the civilian work force, the possible furlough action has impact on military readiness, on medical care (many physicians in military hospitals are civilians), on lost spending when exchanges and commissaries are closed which then impacts the vendors who sell less to military customers and cut their work forces because of reduced demand,” Sullivan said.

While the two-week delay in furlough implementation is welcome news, AUSA urges the Department of Defense to carefully consider the myriad effects of such action on a talented and dedicated group of people as well as the nation writ large before it moves forward.