More on the proposed TRICARE increase from NMFA

What is NMFA Saying?
"The NMFA Government Relations Department has examined the DoD health care cost increase proposals and believes them to be damaging both to current retirees and their families and to future retirees, their families, and their survivors. As an organization that strongly promotes the interests of active duty families, we recognize 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’ve spent much of the past week in discussions regarding an 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. We believe the best approach would be for DoD to increase TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for retirees and their families in FY 2007 by the cumulative amount of the retiree COLA since the start of TRICARE in 1995. According to our calculations, this would increase the enrollment fee for an individual in Prime from the current $230 per year to approximately $303 and for a family from $460 to $606. Increasing the retiree Prime enrollment fee in this way brings the beneficiary cost back to what was deemed fair for all at TRICARE’s start.

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 increases in premiums for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), as proposed by DoD. We believe these raises should be no greater than percent of the annual COLA increase.

NMFA most emphatically opposes the proposed "enrollment fee" for TRICARE Standard. This fee is in actual fact a premium and would move the medical entitlement earned by those who serve and have served to an insurance program. Our 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 FEHBP. 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 beneficiaries simply for using 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, lower out-of-pocket costs, additional preventative care, and management of the beneficiary's health care.

How Can Representatives and Volunteers Help?

URGENT!!! We need to know what you and others in your military community are thinking and saying about these proposals.

How do they think they will affect them? How do they think they will affect long-term recruiting, retention, military quality of life, and morale? We need to hear from both retirees and from active duty folks and their families on this issue because Congress needs to hear from them. Let us know how these proposals are being reported and discussed in your community. Are they a big issue? Do people know what DoD is proposing? Are your local newspapers writing about them? Look for the launch of our Advocacy web section in March. A sample letter regarding this issue will be the first to be available for folks to send to their Congressional representatives.

Obtaining this feedback is important to us as we schedule meetings about this issue on the Hill and prepare our Congressional testimony. Please send your comments to Joyce Raezer at: raezer@nmfa.org."


- hfs

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