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17 March 2016 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, March 17, 2016

weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Thursday when Congress is in session.

 

 

 

 

 

★★★

 

Military Health Care Topic at Hill Hearing What was said:  “Military professionals earn unique long-term benefits we call deferred compensation for risk and hardship endured during their careers.  This deferred compensation includes lifetime access to quality health care,” Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston, USA, Ret., told lawmakers at a hearing this week.  Preston serves as AUSA’s Director of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs. 

Preston and leaders from other top military associations were invited by the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to present their views on the military health care reform proposals contained in the Defense Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request. 

If passed by Congress, DoD’s request would:   

·       Reorganize the current military healthcare system into two health care alternatives:  TRICARE Select (currently TRICARE Prime) and TRICARE Choice (currently TRICARE Standard)

·       Increase fees for TRICARE Select

·       Establish enrollment fees for TRICARE Choice and TRICARE For Life (TFL).  TFL fees would be means tested.

·       Establish an open season enrollment system that would require beneficiaries to enroll for a 1-year period of coverage or lose the opportunity

·       Increase catastrophic caps

·       Index fees and copays to medical inflation as opposed to the percentage growth in military retired pay

·       Increase pharmacy copays 

“AUSA understands the Department of Defense’s concern about rising health care costs,” said Preston’s written statement to the subcommittee.  “However, we believe they have many additional options to constrain the growth of health care spending in ways that do not disadvantage beneficiaries.  They should first pursue these alternative options and reduce inefficiencies, rather than seek large fee increases or marginalize the benefit for beneficiaries.”    

He added, “All of the proposed changes hits retired soldiers the hardest, especially those under 65.  The DoD plan imposes enrollment fees for that population regardless of which program they choose.  It is important to remember that today’s Soldiers are tomorrow’s retired Soldiers.  They observe and receive advice from those that served their country before them.  Therefore, the quality of life after retirement indirectly but powerfully affects the readiness of tomorrow’s force by influencing the retention and recruiting of younger generations.” 

What it means:  In today’s complex and unpredictable operating environment, demand for Army forces is high and requires a commensurate level of readiness.  The Army Chief of Staff has made it clear that his top priority is increasing the readiness of the force.   

However, budgetary pressures – reduced funding associated with the Budget Control Act of 2011, coupled with the uncertainty of future funding – have forced senior leaders to have to make difficult choices between the different components of readiness – people, training, equipping and leadership development.   

Why it matters:  “This trend has already had significant impacts across the force and, if not reversed, will significantly affect the most basic component of readiness for decades to come – the people of the All-Volunteer Force.  The military will not be able to provide an adequate quality of life, degrading its ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest, further depriving the nation of the ready forces it needs to fight and win, now and in the future,” Preston said.   

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are conducting in-depth studies of the current military health care system looking for ways to improve patient care and streamline the bureaucratic structure.  Both committees have stressed that TRICARE reform is not just about raising fees.  

 

FY17 Budget “Minimally Adequate” What was said:  “The Army is ready to fight any terrorist group, but that’s not what we’re saying when we talk about risk.  We’re talking ‘great power’ war with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, if that day would ever come.  We could collectively roll the dice and hope that day will never come.  That is not a course I would advise taking.  We need to size and train the force—all services, not just the Army—for those scenarios.”  Those candid words were delivered by the Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley to lawmakers at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee this week.  

What it means:  The Army budget just five years ago was more than $100 billion higher than the fiscal year 2017 request, and the force consisted of 45 brigade combat teams, compared to 31 today.   

Next year’s base budget request of $125.1 billion is only “minimally adequate” for the Army’s current mission slate, said acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy who testified alongside Milley.  Murphy added, “We are taking a high risk as a nation when we fund the Army at this level, especially given our op tempo.” 

Why it matters:  Milley bluntly offered his “professional view” that the readiness of the Army “is not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them” in larger conflicts against other nations. 

“For 15 years, we’ve been running back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “Higher-end training for higher-intensity battlefield threats has not been routinely practiced for 15 years. So our readiness against that type of threat has deteriorated over the past decade and a half. 

“The level of risk is high for those higher-end contingencies,” he said. “In my professional view, we are at high risk to execute the tasks that would be required.  There is a significant amount of stress on the force.  We’ll drive on, we’ll execute the tasks given to us on daily basis, but that does come with risk, and people need to be clear-eyed about that risk.”