Government and You E-News February 14, 2006

Here’s the News!

1. DoD Continues its “Sustain the Benefit” Campaign to Justify Beneficiary Cost Hikes: During Congressional hearings last week and on its TRICARE website, the Department of Defense leadership continued to try to make the case for increases in fees paid by TRICARE beneficiaries. The Department has given this effort the theme of “Sustain the Benefit” and it has posted information on its website to support its case that beneficiaries, especially retirees under age 65 and their families, must shoulder more of the costs of their health care in order to preserve the benefit for everyone. BG Elder Granger, the Deputy Director of the TRICARE Management Activity, released a letter to beneficiaries this week highlighting both the increases in the Department’s costs and that beneficiary cost shares have not increased. While acknowledging the sacrifices of those who deserve the benefit, he called on these beneficiaries to accept the increases as the way to “make this great program available for generations to come.” To view General Granger’s letter and other information from DoD regarding the proposed cost increases, go to: http://www.tricare.osd.mil/STB/index.cfm

As we stated in previous issues of the Government and You E-News, NMFA has many concerns about DoD’s proposed beneficiary cost increases. While we accept that some fees may have to be increased—the TRICARE Prime enrollment fee for retirees has not been increased since 1995—we believe DoD’s proposal would raise fees entirely too high too quickly. The proposed "enrollment fee" for TRICARE Standard is in actual fact a premium and moves the medical entitlement earned by those who serve and have served to an insurance program. The belief that DoD now regards TRICARE Standard as “just another insurance plan” is further reinforced by its proposal to tie future increases in deductibles and enrollment fees to the increases in premiums for the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), the insurance program for federal civilian employees. History shows that CHAMPUS (the forerunner of TRICARE Standard) was only implemented when the direct care system could not care for all eligible beneficiaries and relatively high deductibles and cost shares were included to preclude the indiscriminate use of CHAMPUS when care was available in the direct care system. However, CHAMPUS was simply an extension of the health care entitlement. Therefore, TRICARE Standard is that same extension and charging to simply use it makes the clear case that DoD no longer believes beneficiaries need an entitlement to health care, but only an ability to buy into an insurance plan. We believe enrollment fees for Prime are different from a Standard enrollment fee because additional benefits are given to Prime beneficiaries: access guarantees, additional preventative care and management of the beneficiary's health care.

As an organization that strongly promotes the interests of active duty families, NMFA recognizes that preserving the health care benefit will require some reasonable increases in beneficiary cost shares. We want today’s servicemembers and their families to be able to count on access to a rich benefit now and when they reach retirement. Playing "ostrich" and simply opposing any increase is not neither practical nor beneficial for the long term. However, NMFA is concerned that DoD’s proposed tiering of the fee increases may be too arbitrary and impose inappropriate charges on some of our most vulnerable beneficiaries, especially survivors and wounded servicemembers who were medically retired. For example, under the DoD proposal, the recent widow of an 0-2 killed in Iraq would face an enrollment fee of $700 per year by FY 2008—the same as the fee paid by a retired General Officer with thirty years of service, simply because her deceased spouse happened to be an officer. We will be searching for another alternative to the tiered system that provides equity between the various ranks, recent vs. longer-term retirees, and the more vulnerable beneficiaries, such as survivors and those servicemembers who have been medically retired. NMFA also believes that, while reasonable annual increases in the TRICARE Standard deductible and Prime enrollment fees would probably be better for beneficiaries in the long run than dramatic increases imposed more infrequently, these increases should not be tied to FEHBP increases. We believe these raises should be no greater than percent of the annual COLA increase.

What do you think of DoD’s proposed increases? Let us know by e-mailing NMFA at families@nmfa.org.

2. Implementation of new TRICARE Dental Program Contract Begins: The implementation of the new TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) contract with United Concordia Companies Inc. (UCCI) began on February 1, 2006. Current enrollees in the TDP—active duty families, as well as members of the Selected Reserve and their families—will notice few changes from the former contract and should expect a seamless transition. United Concordia had administered the program under the previous contract and will continue to furnish worldwide, comprehensive dental coverage to include preventive, diagnostic, restorative, and maintenance services to all eligible uniformed services active duty family members and to National Guard and Reserve members and/or their eligible family members.

Under the new contract, TRICARE has added a few new benefits to the dental program, including dental implants and related prosthetics, and extended restorative services to teeth affected by attrition, erosion, abrasion, and congenital or developmental defects. The TDP will continue to offer a comprehensive dental benefit package that includes dental X-rays, periodic examinations, cleanings, fluoride treatment, fillings, root canals, dental crowns and bridges, and orthodontics. The annual maximum coverage limit remains at $1,200 per enrollee and the lifetime maximum for orthodontia remains at $1,500 per enrollee. While this limit does not by any means completely cover an individual’s orthodontia costs, it is a higher level of coverage than almost all other civilian plans with similar premiums.

Eligible beneficiaries may enroll in single member plans or family plans. From February 1, 2006 through January 31, 2007, the monthly enrollment premium for an individual active duty family member or member of the Selected Reserve will be $10.51, with the active duty family premium set at $26.27 per month. Family members of Selected Reserve members not on active duty pay a higher premium. Specific information on enrollment, premium costs, and benefits can be found at http://www.tricaredentalprogram.com/tdptws/home.jsp.

The TDP encourages diagnostic and preventive care for children ages one to four. Sponsors are encouraged to enroll their children at age one to ensure a good foundation for dental health and thus reduce future costs later for dental care. Cost shares will continue to be reduced for families of servicemembers in pay grades E-1 to E-4 for some dental services under the new contract. The reduction in cost-shares is provided to encourage these families to seek appropriate dental care and improve their dental health. All current TDP-enrolled members should have received a new personalized TDP Identification Card and benefit booklet prior to the new contract taking effect. TDP enrollees and providers will be sent regular updates on benefits and coverage. New enrollees will be sent a personalized TDP Identification Card and benefit booklet.

United Concordia accepts and enrolls new members by phone or on their website. For more information to include enrollment, beneficiaries may access the TDP online at http://www.tricaredentalprogram.com/, or by calling toll-free 1-800-866-8499, 24 hours a day. Members residing outside the continental U.S. should dial their country code followed by 888-418-0466 (toll-free). Beneficiaries may also access the TDP Fact sheet at: http://www.tricare.osd.mil/Factsheets/viewfactsheet.cfm?id=320. (Source: http://tricare.osd.mil/News/news.aspx?fid=8)

3. DoD Announces Multi-pronged Approach to Child Care Shortages: The Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledges that child care is a critical issue in maintaining the readiness of our military families. Through its current facilities DoD services 200,000 children daily. These children range in age from six weeks to twelve years. Despite the inventory of 800 Child Development Centers (CDC) in 300 locations, the DoD Office of Children and Youth estimates there is a shortage of approximately 31,000 child care spaces for military children throughout the world. Adding to this concern is the global rebasing initiative, which is shifting military population centers from Europe and Asia back to the United States. The impact on facilities at these new duty stations has not been overlooked. In the FY 2006 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress approved funding for additional construction and the purchase of modular buildings, which will provide an additional 4,000 spaces in the near future.

In addition to the creation of additional spaces in installation child care centers DoD has partnered with contract agencies to help meet this critical need. Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood, Operation Military Child Care, and Operation Child Care are programs sponsored by DoD and managed by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). These programs help military families who do not have access to a DoD Child Development Center (CDC) find affordable care in their local communities. The goal of Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood is to bring child care fees on the local economy in line with the fee scale established by DoD for CDC programs. This goal is established through referrals to local civilian care centers and some subsidies paid to civilian centers for children enrolled in the program. There are Service-specific guidelines and policies for this program. Operation Military Child Care is available to families of National Guard and Reserve servicemembers who are activated or deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. This subsidy program is intended to help support military spouses’ employment, education, or special medical circumstances. Operation Child Care is a voluntary program designed to support the short-term child care needs of National Guard and Reserve members in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Through this program child care providers across the country have donated a minimum of four hours of child care services to these members who are home on rest and recuperation leave. For complete details on these programs please visit the NACCRRA website, http://www.naccrra.org/MilitaryPrograms/.

In addition to installation Child Development Centers and contract programs DoD operates Family Child Care programs and School-age Care programs. Family Child Care (FCC) provides in home care by certified providers. Recently the FCC program was expanded to include military families living in civilian communities. Previously FCC providers were required to operate from on base or government leased housing. All FCC providers complete comprehensive background checks, are required to obtain licensure, and receive training and support through the local Child and Youth Programs Office. FCC providers are also encouraged to complete accreditation through the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). School-age care (SAC) programs provide care for school-age children age six to twelve. These programs complement the regular school schedule and operate before and after school as well as on school holidays.

NMFA is gratified to see the recognition from both Congress and DoD being placed on this critical issue. Our surveys indicate that high quality, accessible and affordable child care is a primary concern for our military families. This need becomes even more pronounced during deployments when the non-military parent is functioning in the single parent role.

4. Georgia House Approves Bill Benefiting Military Students: On February 9, the Georgia House unanimously passed HB 984, which benefit military families facing the deployment of a servicemember. The bill would amend state elementary and secondary school attendance regulations to grant excused absences for up to five days so that military children may be with their parent prior to the servicemember’s deployment or while on leave associated with the deployment. To view the bill, go to: http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2005_06/search/hb984.htm. A similar bill, SB 424 (http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2005_06/fulltext/sb424.htm), has been introduced in the State Senate, but has not been acted upon yet. (Source: http://www.wtvm.com/Global/story.asp?S=4496635&nav=8fap)

5. Military Spouses: NMFA Scholarships are for You! The National Military Family Association is now accepting applications for the NMFA Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program. Any uniformed service spouse—active, retired, National Guard, Reserve or survivor—studying toward professional certification or attending post-secondary or graduate school is encouraged to apply. Scholarships are normally in the amount of $1,000, and the number awarded each year varies depending on funding. Scholarship funds may be used for tuition, fees, books, and school room and board. Applications can be found at www.nmfa.org/scholarships2006.

Scholarship selection is based on completion of some survey questions that will help NMFA advocate for education changes on your behalf, short-answer questions, and an essay question. Applications will only be accepted online and must be submitted by midnight April 15, 2006.

6. Sound Off About Military Pay! In recent years, Congress—thanks in part to the work of NMFA and other military associations—has increased servicemembers’ pay and compensation benefits, including deployment pays and housing allowances. Proposals are continually being floated by policymakers that could change how servicemembers are compensated. What does your family think of current pay and benefits for uniformed services members? How much does the level of pay and other compensation benefits influence your servicemember’s decision to remain in the military? Do military pay and compensation benefits provide an income better than what your family could receive from private sector employment or do the benefits still miss the mark with military families? Would your family like larger pay raises now, more bonuses, or a steady rate of compensation and continued benefits in retirement?

Log on to www.nmfa.org/surveys today and tell us what you think!


- hfs

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