Tricare user fees update: On Nov. 29, the White House issued a Statement of administrative Policy letter to the Senate threatening to veto the FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill over various Senate-approved provisions. Among the 19 specific objections listed in the letter was the Senate’s failure to include the administration proposal to double and triple a variety of Tricare fees, including new enrollment fees for Tricare For Life (TFL) and Tricare Standard, big increases in Tricare Prime enrollment fees and the Standard deductible, tripling of pharmacy copays and means-testing TFL and Prime fees.
“The administration strongly encourages the Senate to adopt its requested Tricare fee initiatives that seek to control the spiraling DoD health care costs while keeping retired beneficiaries share of these costs well below the levels experienced when the Tricare program was implemented in the 1990s,” according to the letter. “The projected Tricare savings of $1.8 billion in FY2013 and $12.9 billion through FY2017 are essential for DoD to successfully address rising personnel costs. DoD needs these savings to balance and maintain investments for key defense priorities.”
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) says Horse hockey to the White Horse assertion. MOAA’s research www.content.yudu.com/A1zahq/201211November/resources/72.htm ] shows military personnel and health care costs today comprise the same share of the defense budget (about one-third) that they have consistently over several decades.
A DoD request to Congress earlier this year acknowledged that, contrary to DoD claims, military health care costs actually have been declining. The hard fact is that DoD costs have been $3 billion less than expected over the last three years, and that total has been reprogrammed away from the health care account for other purposes.
If defense and administration officials were serious about reducing DoD health costs, they’d be focusing on correcting their own mismanagement and gross inefficiencies that have wasted billions of taxpayers’ money. Rather than working to bring DoD’s antiquated and fragmented health care oversight and delivery structure into the twenty-first century, they continue trying to foist the bill for their mismanagement onto military beneficiaries who already have sacrificed more for America than any others. By refusing to go along with that, Congress has recognized what Pentagon and White House leaders won’t - that military beneficiaries aren’t the culprit here. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 30 Nov 2012]
Tricare pharmacy copay update: Late-hour speeches by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ) on runaway military health costs led the Senate 4 DEC to shelve a defense bill amendment that would have spared family members and retirees more burdensome co-pays on drug prescriptions filled off base.
The timing of their opposition, in the last hours of consideration of the 2013 defense authorization bill when amendments were only being approved by unanimous consent, allowed Coburn and McCain to block the Senate from supporting the softer House-passed plan for raising prescription fees. There will be a second chance next week when House-Senate conferees iron out differences in separate versions of the defense bill. But Coburn and McCain, using fresh scoring of costs from the Congressional Budget Office, were able to raise new doubts among some senators over the long-term cost implications of adopting the House plan.
“This is paid for, but it is smoke and mirrors,” Coburn told colleagues on the Senate floor.
“We have used a trick…that will require [more funding for] the health account…which means we will not have $1.7 billion for naval exercises, for flight training, for tank training, for range training.”
That challenge got a strong endorsement from McCain, ranking Republican on the armed services committee, who repeated Robert Gate’s words as defense secretary in 2010 that health costs “are eating us alive.”
“We are going to have to find ways to bring these costs under control and still, at the same time, provide our veterans with the benefits they have earned,” McCain said, in arguing against the House plan which was presented as an amendment from Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
McCain attacked the notion that raising fees would harm readiness. “I know of no one who joined the military because of Tricare, [though] I hear [it] from all the retirees…I have not yet met a single 18-year-old, including my own son who joined the Marine Corps, who said: ‘Gee, I want to join the Marine Corps because of Tricare.’ “No,” McCain continued, “they joined…to serve their country. They understand our obligation to them is not to hand them a bankrupt Defense Department [where] all the costs are in things such as Tricare and retirement benefits…so we can’t provide them with what they need to fight.”
The reality is that pharmacy co-pays will rise this spring for family members and retirees. By how much will be determined by a House-Senate conference committee that will be meeting next week behind closed doors. The Senate defense bill, passed 98 to 0, now has no language to block or alter the Obama administration’s drug co-pay plan. Under it, drugs dispensed on base would stay free, and co-pays for generics in retail outlets would remain $5. But co-pays for brand names at retail on the military formulary would jump to $26 from $12. Non-formulary drugs, which cost Tricare more, would no longer be dispensed at retail, only through mail order. Co-pays for brand names at mail order would pop to $26 from $9, but mail order prescriptions usually are for 90 days versus 30 at retail. The administration also wants co-pays adjusted by $2 annually until they reach $34 in 2016. After that, the pharmacy fees off base would be adjusted annually to keep pace with medical inflation.
The House plan, which military associations helped to design, allows more modest initial increases in drug fees and would tie annual increases thereafter to the percentage rise in military retired pay. This plan would at least match health cost savings of the administration’s plan by requiring elderly beneficiaries to use mail order to refill maintenance drugs, at least for a year. The expectation is that seniors will like the convenience and stay with mail order, saving Tricare billions of dollars yearly in retail drug costs. But a Senate source said Coburn and McCain were able to derail the amendment so easily because the Congressional Budget Office had found it would cost a lot more money than expected after 10 years if adjustments stayed tied to retiree COLAs rather than medical inflation. To address this, advocates agreed to have the COLA link sunset after 10 years. But Senate leaders chose instead to avoid further action on the amendment.
Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), said the Senate seemed primed to adopt the House-passed plan until, suddenly, it fell victim to “misplaced concerns” over its impact on health costs. Its opponents painted the amendment as maintaining the status quo, he said, when in fact it represents “significant concessions” with co-pay hikes and the mail order requirement for elderly.
“These concerns about drug costs taking money away from other defense programs are completely, 100 percent bogus,” Strobridge said. “The fact is the Pentagon has been using health care money to fund other things for the past several years. And the whole point of this amendment is that health care money should be used to fund health care.”
Defense officials earlier this year sought to reprogram $700 million from health care into other accounts. Strobridge said that would have brought total reprogramming of health dollars to $3 billion over the last three years, a period when defense officials insisted health costs are out of control. Coburn predicted the House-backed plan would become law because the “service organizations want us to do it. But it is not the right thing to do. We have to begin, as we negotiate to increase revenues from the very wealthy in this country, declining expenses at the Defense Department. Everybody has to share [in controlling costs]. If they don’t share now, they will share much more painfully in the future.” [Source: Stars & Stripes | Tom Philpott | 6 Dec 2012]
SBP DIC offset update: After working all day Nov. 28 and late into the night on Nov. 29, senators continued Dec. 20, working their way through a long list of amendments to the FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 3254). One major disappointment came Friday morning, when the Senate voted to reject Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) amendment to end the deduction of VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities. Nelson articulately spoke of the need for this fix, and more senators voted for it than voted against it. The problem is that the proposal would cost almost $7 billion dollars over 10 years, which generated a budget point of order against it for violating the budget control act passed last year. It takes 60 senators to override a budget point of order, and the 58-to-34 vote fell two votes short. 33 Republicans and one Democrat voted against it, and five Republicans and three Democrats did not vote. States that had no senators voting for it included AL, AZ, GA, ID, IN, KY, NH, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, and WY.
You can view the details of the full vote on the Senate’s website at www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=112&session=2&vote=00216. So the 54,000 widows and widowers affected by this terrible inequity will have to wait at least another year - again. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 30 Nov & 7 Dec 2012]
DFAS 1099R availability dates: Retiree and annuitant pay customers of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service are scheduled to receive their 2012 tax statements mid-December through January. Most of the 1099 forms will be available a week earlier via [ www.mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx ] the online myPay pay account management system for retired military members and annuitants. The mailing schedule includes:
• Annual Retiree Account Statements showing the new payment including the cost-of-living allowance adjustment for 2013 will be available through myPay on Dec. 4, and mailed via the U.S. Postal Service between Dec. 19 and Jan. 10.
• Internal Revenue Service Form 1099-R tax statements for retirees will be available on myPay Dec. 13, and mailed via the U.S. Postal Service between Dec. 19 and Jan. 10.
• Annuitant Account Statements and Internal Revenue Service Form 1099-R tax statements for annuitants will be available through myPay on Dec. 15. Annuitants who get these documents via mail can expect to receive them between Dec. 19 and Jan. 10.
Retirees and annuitants must keep their contact information current, according to DFAS officials who say the top reason a retiree or annuitant doesn’t receive their 1099-R is because it is sent to an old address. If a retiree or annuitant does not have their correct address on file, they will experience a significant delay in receiving their end-of-year documents, said DFAS officials. People who do not have an active myPay account must call, mail or fax a written request to DFAS-Cleveland; processing a change of address and reissuing a new 1099-R takes at least 30 days, said officials. Retirees and annuitants with an active myPay account can decrease their wait time for an address change and new 1099-R by logging in and updating their own account. Changes take effect in three to five business days, and a copy of their 1099R can be printed directly from myPay. Information is made available faster electronically, said DFAS officials. This is why myPay users get their 1099-Rs up to a week earlier than those who wait for the mail to arrive. For more information about account maintenance, 1099-R requests, and logging in to myPay, visit the DFAS website at www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary.html. People without an online account can contact DFAS at 800-321-1080. [Source: Air Force Retiree News Service Release No. 11-07-12 dtd 29 Nov 2012]
Flags: The American Legion Post 70 has on hand American flags, all of the military service flags, POW/MIA flags, and S.C. State flags. Contact a member of Post 70 to purchase flags; the cost is $5.
American Legion Post 70: Meeting at 1800 on the third Tuesday of the month. For more information, please contact Thomas Crisp at 940-2793.
American Legion Post 24 of Newberry: Meeting is on the second Tuesday of the month at 1830.
The American Legion Auxiliary – unit 24 meets the same day at 3 p.m. at Post 24.