Significant progress was made on the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act after the House passed its version, 325-98, and the full Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) marked up its version. While the House bill largely rejected all of DoD’s proposed cost-cutting measures, the SASC mark would allow some.
Here is a breakdown of DoD’s proposals and the House and Senate’s positions:
DoD – Consolidate the three plans – Prime, Standard & Extra – offered under the TRICARE health care system and implement enrollment fees for TRICARE-For-Life beneficiaries.
House – No consolidation or enrollment fees
Senate – No consolidation or enrollment fees
Military pharmacy program
DoD – Increase retail and mail-order co-pays and require all beneficiaries to either get their maintenance medications through mail-order or through military treatment facilities.
House – No changes to the pharmacy program
Senate – Establishes higher pharmacy copays in 2015 through 2024 for non-active duty TRICARE beneficiaries; requires that non-formulary prescriptions be available through the national mail-order program; and requires that non-generic prescription maintenance medications be refilled through military treatment facility pharmacies or the national mail-order pharmacy program.
DoD – Slash $1 billion in subsidies from the current $1.4 billion resulting in higher prices/fewer stores.
House – Despite earlier reports, the House rejected any cuts in commissary funding but "requires the Department of Defense to consult with outside experts in retail grocery sales to ﬁnd efﬁciencies in the commissary system."
Senate – Rejects all cuts to commissaries and authorizes the commissaries to purchase and sell generic brands.
DoD – Increase out-of-pocket housing costs by 5 percent
House – Rejects higher housing costs
Senate – Agrees with DoD proposal. Housing allowances would drop to 95 percent, down from 100 percent.
Military pay raise
DoD – Cap 2015 military pay raise at 1 percent instead of 1.8 percent. The 1.8 percent pay increase is in line with the automatic cost-of-living adjustment scheduled for the military by law.
House – The House did not include specific language regarding a pay raise in their bill. Accordingly, their silence indicates their support for the 1.8 percent raise that would automatically take place under the law.
Senate – Agrees with the DoD’s proposed 1 percent pay raise.
Both chambers shot down the Army’s plan to retire its fleet of Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters and replace them with the National Guard’s Apaches and also rejected the plan to reduce the size of the National Guard. The SASC mark "Establishes a National Commission on the Future of the Army to assess the Army’s active and reserve components size and force mix and requires the submission of is findings and recommendations by February 1, 2016. Also, holds through fiscal year 2015 regular Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve end strength to levels as provided for in the budget request; and allows the Army to transfer not more than 48 Apache helicopters from the Army National Guard to the regular Army."
An amendment adopted by the House "Establishes the National Commission on the Future of the Army to undertake a comprehensive study of the structure of the Total Army to determine: (1) the necessary size (2) the proper force mixture of the active component and reserve component (3) missions (4) force generation policies, including assumptions behind those policies (5) and how the structure should be modified to best fulfill mission requirements in a manner consistent with available resources."
Other amendments added to the House bill during debate include those that would:
Require the secretary of defense to establish an electronic tour calculator so that reservists could keep track of aggregated active duty tours of 90 days or more served within a fiscal year.
Enhance the participation of mental health professionals in boards for the correction of military records and boards for the review of the discharge or dismissal of members of the armed forces.
Expand maternity leave for the active duty service members by an unpaid 6 weeks to be in line with the Family Medical Leave Act, while allowing commanders the discretion to call service members back to duty at any given time to maintain unit readiness.
Allow for the transportation on military aircraft on a space-available basis for disabled veterans with a service connected permanent disability rated as total.
Prohibit the Department of Defense from using funds to close commissary stores.
Allow memorial headstone or grave markers to be made available for purchase by guard or reserve members who served for at least six years, at no cost to the government. Further clarifies that this does not allow for any new veteran benefits and does not authorize any new burial benefit or create any new authority for an individual to be buried in a national cemetery.
Ensure access to behavioral health treatment, including applied behavior analysis, under TRICARE for children with developmental disabilities, when prescribed by a physician or psychologist.
Correct the lack of timely and efficient notification of changes to TRICARE coverage by requiring the secretary of defense to notify all affected providers and beneficiaries of any significant change made by TRICARE via electronic means no less than 90 days before the change is to take place.
What’s next: The full Senate still has to vote on their version of the NDAA. There is no timetable yet when it might reach the Senate floor. Once it has passed House and Senate negotiators will then iron out any differences and produce a final bill for the president’s signature.