Proposal to Increase VA Health Care Cost-Sharing Blocked
The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment to strike down a Bush administration proposal to charge some veterans for their health care, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reports.
Bush in his fiscal year 2007 budget proposed that some veterans earning more than $29,000 per year pay an enrollment fee for VA health care services. Bush also proposed increasing their copayments for prescription drugs.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), would replace nearly $800 million in proposed fees with money taken from cuts to other programs.
Following the vote, the Senate rejected an amendment from Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that would have increased the VA budget by rolling back $1.5 billion in tax cuts to corporations. The vote on the second amendment was "largely along party lines," the Spokesman-Review reports.
A Senate vote on the entire budget resolution is expected this week (Eder, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 3/15).
In related news, a proposal by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to increase TRICARE beneficiaries' copays and enrollment fees by 115% will not be considered until the Government Accountability Office or another independent analyst studies the proposal and makes recommendations for slowing the growth in spending, Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at a hearing on Tuesday, CongressDaily reports.
Graham said, "There is no way a 115% increase ... is going to happen in the next two years."
The Joint Chiefs have said that the payment increase, which they estimate would save about $735 million in fiscal year 2007 and $11 billion over the next five years, is necessary to improve TRICARE's financing. TRICARE represented 8% of the Department of Defense budget in 2005, up from 4% four years ago.
Graham said Congress may consider "small bump-ups" in the price of some coverage for active duty military personnel, retirees and families, but he did not "suggest that the subcommittee might come up with some program savings," CongressDaily reports.
Tanna Schmidli, head of the National Military Family Association, testified at the hearing that the "proposal to raise TRICARE fees by exorbitant amounts has resonated throughout the beneficiary population."
Graham said that "an erosion of benefits is inevitable" (Hess, CongressDaily, 3/15).