Pentagon losing battle over health fees

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Lawmakers attempt to block Tricare fee increases for Military retirees
by Rick Maze 

With the backing of 13 military associations, a bill blocking the Bush administration’s planned Tricare free increases for military retirees was introduced Wednesday.

The Military Retirees’ Healthcare Protection Act, HR 4949, would prevent increases in enrollment fees and pharmacy co-pays that could affect 3 million military retirees and their families unless and until Congress approved changes that would then have to be signed into law.

The bill was referred to the House Armed Services Committee, where sentiment already is running strongly against the Pentagon plan that would double or triple fees for enrolling in Tricare for military retirees under age 65.

I believe that keeping our promise of quality, affordable health care for military retirees is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do, said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, the chief sponsor. Our nation has a moral obligation to keep our promises to those who have kept their promise to defend our nation…

     

We cannot attract the best and brightest to fight our war on terrorism in the years ahead if they see us breaking faith with those who served in years past, Edwards said. To win the war on terrorism, we must keep faith with our warriors and stop this military retiree tax.

This legislation is about offering protection for the men and women who are willing to protect our nation from its enemies and keeping promises to those who have promised to put themselves’ in harm’s way when called upon, added Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., the primary co-sponsor.

Edwards wondered how people would react if Rep. Jones and I introduced a bill today that created a tax $1,000 for retired officers and $490 for retired enlisted people and had that money go to cover the cost of the war? That wouldn’t be well received, would it? But that is, essentially, what the Bush administration is asking for retirees to be charged to cover military expenses, Edwards said.

Retired Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan Jr., president of the Military Officers Association of America, said the bill shows the richest country on earth can afford both military weapons and health care, and doesn’t have to stick the troops with that bill.

Defense leaders pushing to triple or quadruple health fees for military retirees seem to forget that career service members already paid their premiums and paid them up-front, through two or three decades of service and sacrifice, Ryan said.

Sydney Hickey of the National Military Family Association, another group supporting the bill, said she is particularly opposed to Pentagon plans to establish an enrollment fee for Tricare Standard health insurance coverage, which has no such fee today.

It would change the earned access of military health care into the opportunity to buy access to military health care, in essence changing the earned benefit into an insurance plan, Hickey said.


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