28 April 2016 Legislative News Update
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HOUSE DEFENSE PANEL APPROVES POLICY BILL
At 2:34 this morning, by a vote of 60-2, the House Committee on Armed Services approved their version of the defense authorization bill for fiscal 2017.
The $610 billion measure adds $18 billion in programs and personnel that was not requested by the Pentagon. The committee’s decision to shift funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to pay for the unrequested items in the base budget is one of the more contentious aspects of the defense policy bill.
The move essentially means that the OCO account, which is exempt from budget caps, would only have enough money to fund overseas operations for half a year, requiring the next president to come back to Congress seeking additional funds for the remainder of fiscal 2017.
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain, R-Ariz., has already said that he does not support the strategy and will look for other ways to boost the Pentagon’s budget.
So what did the extra $18 billion buy for the Army? More Black Hawk and Apache helicopters and an additional 20,000 troops for the active force, 15,000 for the Army National Guard and 10,000 for the Army Reserve.
Health Care Reform
The much-anticipated health care reform plan was finally unveiled.
The committee’s plan would combine the current TRICARE program into two options: TRICARE Prime which will remain the managed care option and TRICARE Preferred which is a hybrid of the current TRICARE Standard and Extra options. Beneficiaries choosing this option would receive their care from a network of civilian providers.
Under the committee’s plan, all personnel now serving or who will retire before 2018 will stay within the current TRICARE fee structures, with enrollment fees adjusted to the cost of living, but that could change in 2020. At that time, retirees selecting the new TRICARE Preferred option would pay an enrollment fee if DoD can demonstrate and independently validate improvements to access and care.
Further, anyone enlisting after Jan. 1, 2018, would pay an annual fee for services.
The committee also voted to remove administration of medical facilities from the individual services and place it under the control of the Defense Health Agency.
In an effort to address well-publicized problems with access to care and referrals, the Committee voted to:
· Eliminate referrals for urgent care.
· Maintain urgent care facilities that will remain open through 11:00 p.m.
· Extend care at Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) primary care clinics beyond normal business hours.
· Expand public-private partnerships to increase and complement MTF services provided to beneficiaries.
· Enable retirees to purchase durable medical equipment at the DOD cost.
· Standardize appointment scheduling and first-call resolution when contacting clinics.
· Increase the number of available appointments.
· Maximize the use of telehealth and secure messaging.
· Establish new trauma centers at military medical centers in areas with unmet patient demand.
Amendments Approved. Amendments Rejected
Other amendments approved by the committee include:
· A 2.1 percent pay raise as opposed to the 1.6 percent included in the president’s budget request.
· 14 days of leave for service members whose spouses give birth. Dual military families who adopt a child would each receive 14 days of leave.
· Authorization for the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to optimize practices across the defense commissary and exchange system that reduce the reliance of the system on appropriated funds.
· A requirement that both men and women register for the draft.
· Establishment of a “Commission on National Defense Strategy for the United States” to examine and make recommendations to the president; defense secretary and congressional committees.
· An extension of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ term from two years to four years and requirement that term be staggered outside of the presidential election cycle.
· Exemption from furlough for "dual status technicians," which are National Guard personnel who serve as civilian maintenance employees.
· Requirement that military investigators have specific training on retaliation and a requirement for a minimum confinement period for members of the military convicted of certain sex-related offenses.
· Changes on how military retirement pay is distributed to divorced spouses.
In the reject column are amendments that would have established another round of Base Realignment and Closure; lifted existing restrictions on abortions at military hospitals; and lifted restrictions on the transfer of detainees from the military’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
What’s next: The full House is expected to vote on the measure in mid-May. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to offer their version of the bill the week of May 9.