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Pentagon Pushes for TRICARE Fee Increases

January 12, 2011
Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Source …..

End strength cuts and the demise of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program dominated the headlines of the this week’s defense budget conversations, but the financial projections also call for another controversial cost-saving measure: increases in TRICARE fees for military retirees.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the military’s future health care costs “unaffordable” and said the department could save up to $7 billion over the next five years with modest increases in TRICARE fees for working-age retirees. Active-duty troops and their families would not be affected by the plan.

Let your legislator know how you feel about the proposed TRICARE increases.

“The current TRICARE enrollment fee was set in 1995 at $460 a year for the basic family plan and has not been raised since,” Gates told reporters. “During this time, insurance premiums paid by the private sector and other government workers have risen dramatically. For example, the fees for a comparable health insurance program for federal workers cost roughly $5,000 per year.”

As a result, he said, many of those retirees forgo their employer’s health plan to remain with TRICARE, creating a heavy burden on the defense budget.

But lawmakers have rejected that idea multiple times in the past decade, including three straight years during President George W. Bush’s tenure in office. And in 2009, veterans groups lashed out at the White House when officials there resurrected the idea.

That year, as part of the fiscal 2010 defense budget, lawmakers passed nonbinding language warning Pentagon officials not to punish military veterans through health care hikes in order to balance the budget.

But Gates insisted that the changes will “better align the department with the rest of the country,” and strengthen the military health care system in the long run. The new TRICARE fees are expected to be included in the fiscal 2012 defense budget proposal, to be unveiled next month.

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