DOD Health Official Warns Against Proposed TRICARE Expansion
Senate legislation that would allow National Guard members and reservists who are not on active duty to enroll in the new TRICARE Reserve Select program would increase costs for the military health care system, according to William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary for health affairs at the Department of Defense, the Honolulu Advertiser reports (Philpott, Honolulu Advertiser, 10/31).
The Senate in July approved by voice vote an amendment to a $441.6 billion fiscal year 2006 DOD authorization bill that would extend military health benefits for National Guard members and reservists. The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), would allow National Guard members and reservists who are not on active duty, as well as their families, to enroll in TRICARE for a fee.
The cost of the amendment could reach $4.6 billion through FY 2010. The House version of the bill does not include the amendment (California Healthline, 7/22).
In testimony last month before the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, Winkenwerder said military health care costs have doubled in the past four years to $36 billion, in large part because of expanded benefits for retirees and their families, and would reach $50 billion in four or five years.
In 2009, retiree health benefits will account for about 75% of the military health care budget, Winkenwerder said. He added that military health care system spending on prescription drugs has increased by 500% since 2001. Winkenwerder also "blamed a decade-long freeze on TRICARE enrollment fees and copayments, which he suggested the Defense Department will try to raise after consulting military leaders and Congress," the Advertiser reports.
The Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation, established by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, by spring plans to issue recommendations to reduce military health care spending, at least in part through increased fees (Honolulu Advertiser, 10/31).