Defense budget cuts proposed by the Obama administration will cause the cost of health care to increase radically for military families. The budget cuts, however, will not affect unionized civilian defense workers.
The disparity in how these cuts will affect uniformed personnel and civilians now has the military concerned as to what the effect will be on recruiting and retaining current personnel. Now, more than a few in Washington are suggesting the budget proposal is a calculated move to force military personnel into state-run insurance exchanges under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act better known as Obamacare.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R–CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is among a growing number who is doubtful about the proposal. “We shouldn’t ask our military to pay our bills,” he said, “when we aren’t willing to impose a similar hardship on the rest of the population. Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon he added, “We can’t keep asking those who have given so much to give that much more.”
The increases to military health care payments must be approved by Congress to go into effect. If passed, the bill would take $1.8 billion from the Tricare medical system in the fiscal 2013 budget, and $12.9 billion by 2017.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey defended the Pentagon’s proposed budget saying it is under a mandate to cut $487 billion over the next 10 years. The Pentagon faces another $1 trillion in reductions when automatic cuts are triggered.
“I want those of you who serve and who have served to know that we’ve heard your concerns, in particular your concern about the tiered enrollment fee structure for Tricare in retirement,” Dempsey said. “You have our commitment that we will continue to review our health care system to make it as responsive, as affordable, and as equitable as possible.”
The plan proposes increases between 30% to 78% in annual premiums for Tricare during the first year. Over the next five years rates would increase from 94% to 345%, triple the current level. That would mean a retiring Army colonel with a family would see rates increase from $460 per year to over $2000 in just five years.
It isn’t just retired military personnel that would be hard hit by the changes. Active duty personnel would immediately see their co-payments increase for pharmaceuticals and lost incentives for opting for generic drugs.
A congressional aide said the administration’s proposed cuts exhibits a double standard. “We all recognize that we are in a time of austerity,” this aide said. “But defense has made up to this point 50 percent of deficit reduction cuts that we agreed to, but is only 20 percent of the budget.”
The aide added that the military has already given up equipment and force levels needed for global missions. “And now they are going to them again and asking them to pay more for their health care when you’ve held the civilian workforce at DoD and across the federal government virtually harmless in all of these cuts. And it just doesn’t seem fair.”
There are problems with the proposed cuts than just the money. The cuts are conveniently scheduled to not go into effect until after this election year, obviously a ploy to avoid agitating military voters any more than possible. Critics and uniformed personnel alike noticed quickly that civilian unionized workers will not be affected at all.
Military service organizations oppose the healthcare changes and contend the Pentagon is “means-testing” benefits for service personnel as if they were a social program, and not something earned with 20 or more years of military service. Retired Navy Capt. Kathryn M. Beasley told the Free Beacon, “This is a breach of faith” for both the active duty and retiree communities.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars has called on all military personnel and the veterans’ community to block the healthcare increases. Richard L. DeNoyer, head of the 2 million-member VFW said, “Any proposal that negatively impacts any quality of life program must be defeated, and that’s why the VFW is asking everyone to join the fight and send a united voice to Congress.”
Congress must pass all the proposed changes into law. Tricare for Life, Tricare Prime, and Tricare Standard increases must be approved, as well as some of the pharmacy fee increases as current law limits Tricare fee increases to cost of living increases in retirement pay.