Senate Bill Would Limit Ability of Defense Department To Increase TRICARE Fees
Six senators have agreed to co-sponsor a bipartisan bill that would limit a Department of Defense proposal to increase TRICARE fees for some military retirees, CongressDaily reports (Scully, CongressDaily, 4/13).
Under the proposal, developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, TRICARE copayments and enrollment fees would increase by 115% for military retirees younger than age 65. The Joint Chiefs have said that the fee increases would save TRICARE about $735 million in fiscal year 2007 and $11 billion over the next five years and are needed to improve the finances of the program.
The fee increases were scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1. However, armytimes.com on March 21 reported that DOD informed TRICARE contractors the fee increases will not occur on Oct. 1 (California Healthline, 3/28).
Under the Senate bill -- co-sponsored by Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and others -- DOD could not increase TRICARE fees in excess of the rate of growth in retirement pay; a House bill with 171 bipartisan co-sponsors would require DOD to obtain congressional approval for TRICARE fee increases.
Lautenberg said in a statement, "Especially in a time of war, it is unthinkable that the administration would even consider dramatically increasing health care costs for those who have sacrificed for our country."
John Class, deputy director of government affairs at the Military Officers Association, said, "We were extremely happy that at least there's something in both the House and Senate on this." However, Class said that the Senate bill "makes it a little too easy for DOD to go ahead and automatically raise (fees) each year."
William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary for health affairs at DOD, said, "We look forward to working together with the Congress to move forward," adding that the "problem will not get any easier a year from now or two years from now" (CongressDaily, 4/13).