Assistant Director, Government Affairs
Here we go again.
For several years, AUSA, its partners in The Military Coalition and some in Congress successfully fought the Defense Department’s attempts to increase some TRICARE fees and co-pays. Therefore, we were relieved when Defense Secretary Robert Gates fully funded TRICARE in the last two budget cycles.
However, that relief may be coming to an end.
A recent article in USA Today confirmed our suspicions that the fight to prevent fees increases is not over.
Deputy Director of TRICARE, Rear Adm. Christine Hunter said surging costs are prompting the Pentagon and Congress to consider out-of-pocket fee increases for military retirees and some active duty families.
The article states Pentagon spending on health care has increased from $19 billion in 2001 to a projected $50.7 billion in 2011, a 167 percent increase.
Hunter said that the rapid rise is due to a surge in mental health and physical problems for troops who have been deployed multiple times and by a flood of career military retirees fleeing less-generous civilian health programs.
We can’t say we haven’t seen the warning signs of a possible increase. Gates told Congress in February that increased health care costs are "beginning to eat us alive."
Also, at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Chairman Jim Webb, D-Va., and ranking Republican Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., acknowledged concerns over rising personnel costs, particularly for health care. Each noted that TRICARE fees haven’t been raised on beneficiaries since 1995.
Graham said "I want to be generous and fair to all those who serve, but there’s a cost containment problem. I don’t see how we can sustain this forever, where TRICARE is never subject to adjustment in terms of the premiums to be paid."
Good news as far as the Pentagon is concerned. Hunter said, "The difference this year is that we see members of Congress saying we need to have a thoughtful discussion."
At a recent reception for the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Retiree Council, the AUSA vice president for education, Lt. Gen. Theodore Stroup, USA, Ret., acknowledged that we are not "out of the woods yet" with regard to fee increases.
He said that in Army and AUSA analyses of the retiree population that the average retiree is an E-7 with 20 years of service. "There are more E-7s in the retiree [population] than lieutenant colonels from the reserve components and active force."
What that means is that proposed increases in TRICARE fees and co-pays would "take one month of retiree pay before federal and state taxes are deducted from that E-7."
AUSA’s position: "Don’t put that on the back of enlisted retirees. We don’t believe it’s the right thing to do. Retiree health care is not the place to look for cost savings," Stroup said.
AUSA and its Military Coalition partners are vigilant and have already begun to engage the Congress and make sure our message is heard. It is critical that you add your voice to ours by visiting our Web site, www.ausa.org and send our suggested message to Congress.
Click on "Contact Congress," enter your zip code and then click on the AUSA-proposed letter titled, "Support H.R. 816, the Military Retirees’ Healthcare Protection Act."
Clearly it is Congress that we must continue to influence.
Do your part and save up to 66% on prescriptions. The USA Today article on increasing health care costs talked about other factors that are driving up military costs. One of those factors is the nearly 200,000 prescriptions that were filled each day at civilian pharmacies last year.
One way you can help save money for yourself and the Defense Department is to use the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy.
It offers beneficiaries a way to save money and time by having medications delivered to their home. When beneficiaries chose home delivery, they receive up to a 90-day supply for the same co-pay as a 30-day supply from the retail pharmacy.
It is a win-win situation for the beneficiary and the Defense Department. DoD pays 30 to 40 percent less for prescriptions filled through the mail-order service compared to retail pharmacies. It could save them about $24 million a year if just 1 percent of prescriptions were shifted from retail to mail order.
Mail-order pharmacy is recommended for maintenance medications for such conditions as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes.
Beneficiaries may also use the mail-order service for prescriptions they routinely use like allergy medications.
For prescriptions such as antibiotics or pain medications, beneficiaries may chose to fill the prescription at military treatment facilities or local retail pharmacies.
Beneficiaries may enroll in the mail-order pharmacy by mail or online. New prescriptions and refills may be filled by telephone, mail or online.
For more information on the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy Program and how to enroll visit www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy/tmop_order.cfm.
Beneficiaries may get a registration form by calling 1-(877) 363-1303 or by visiting the Express Scripts Web site, www.expressscripts.com/TRICARE.