WASHINGTON (AFPS) – TRICARE recipients will see no increase in their premiums next year, if Congress approves that provision of the fiscal 2011 defense budget request, as expected. However, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he wants to work with Congress to find ways to help control escalating military health care costs that are consuming an ever-increasing chunk of the budget.
Noting the skyrocketing costs of the military healthcare system – from $19 billion in 2001 to $50.7 billion in the fiscal 2011 budget request — Gates questioned how sustainable the program can remain without cost controls or higher premiums. “It’s only going to go up,” he said, with Military Health System officials estimating 5 to 7 percent annual cost increases through fiscal 2015. “And it is absorbing an increasing percentage of our budget.” Officials predict that the program will grow from 6 percent of the defense budget to more than 10 percent by fiscal 2015.
“We absolutely want to take care of our men and women in uniform and our Retirees,” Gates said, “But at some point, there has to be some reasonable tradeoff between reasonable cost increases or premium increases or co-pays or something and the cost of the program.”
There’s been no TRICARE premium increase since the program was founded in 1995, Gates said, noting that Congress rejected recent Pentagon proposals for increases. Expecting the same action, the Defense Department recommended no increase this year, he said.
“I ask anybody to point me to a health insurance program that has not had a premium increase in 15 years,” Gates said. TRICARE benefits, he said, are “generous, as they should be for our men and women in uniform.”
But Gates compared the $1,200 average out-of-pocket costs for a Family of three under TRICARE to about $3,300 for the same Family under a health maintenance organization plan in the Federal Employees Health Care Program.
The Military Health System has 9.5 million eligible beneficiaries, including active-duty military members and their Families, military Retirees and their Families, dependent survivors and certain reserve-component members and their Families.
TRICARE Program for ‘Gray Area’ Reserve Retirees on Its Way
FALLS CHURCH, VA - A new program will offer “gray area” Reservists the opportunity to purchase TRICARE health care coverage. While qualified members of the Selected Reserve may purchase premium-based coverage under TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS), Retired National Guard and Reserve personnel did not have TRICARE health coverage options until they reached age 60. Under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010, that will change.
The new provision will allow certain members of the Retired Reserve who are not yet age 60 (gray area Retirees), to purchase TRICARE Standard and Extra coverage. TRICARE Extra simply means beneficiaries have lower out of pocket costs if they use a network provider.
“We’re working hard to coordinate all the details of eligibility, coverage and costs, and expedite implementation of this important program,” said RADM Christine Hunter, Deputy Director of the TRICARE Management Activity. “This is a major benefit program with implementation on the same magnitude as TRS. It will require detailed design, development and testing, but qualified Retired Reservists should be able to purchase coverage by late summer or early fall of 2010.”
While the health care benefit provided for gray area Retirees will be TRICARE Standard and Extra – similar to TRS – the new program will differ from TRS in its qualifications, premiums, copayment rates and catastrophic cap requirements. The program is tentatively called TRICARE Retired Reserve.
The new statute requires premium rates to equal the full cost of the coverage. That is the major difference contrasted with TRS, where the statute provides that Selected Reserve members pay only 28 percent of the cost of the coverage. Premiums for the new gray area Retiree program will be announced after program rules are published in the Federal Register.
This new program offers an important health coverage option for Reserve and National Guard members who served their country honorably before hanging up their uniforms at retirement, said Hunter. For more information about TRICARE benefits go to www.tricare.mil.
Will Congress Cut Medicare Reimbursement Rates?
Will Congress cut Medicare reimbursement rates and, if so, when will they do it? Congress has delayed a 21.2 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursement rates three times. As we go to press, the effective date has been moved to June 1; however, Congress could vote to delay the cuts beyond that. How will this affect TRICARE for Life? If Congress sets a date and Medicare declares new reimbursement rates, TRICARE will take 30 to 60 days to change business systems to align, as required by law, with the new Medicare rates. We will report the latest news in the next issue of Army Echoes and on the current news section of our homepage at www.armyg1.army.mil/rso/docs/currentnews.pdf.
Taking SSNs off ID Cards
We reported a year ago that the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) was in the process of eliminating Social Security Numbers (SSN) from all ID cards. This initiative has been put on hold, pending further review. For Retirees, this means that your Social Security will remain on your ID card and your dependents’ ID cards. As soon as this situation changes, we will report it in Army Echoes and in the Current News section of our homepage www.armyg1.army.mil/rso/docs/currentnews.pdf.
Retired Army decal and pin: Can be purchased at the Retiree corner of your nearest AAFES stores or online at www.aafes.com, click on “Exchange Online Mall”, choose “USPT Gear”, then choose “Retired Gear”. You must log in first.
Echoes is mailed using correspondence addresses supplied by:
For those in receipt of retired pay or an annuity – DFAS – Cleveland, OH
For those who will begin to receive retired pay at age 60 – the Army Human Resources Command (HRC) – St. Louis, MO
You must use the contact information provided in the boxes below to make address changes. If you write or FAX your address change, you must include your Social Security number on every page and you must sign your address change request.
Mobilization:For mobilization purposes, ALL Retired Soldiers should report address and phone number changes as well as changes in your ability to serve (physical condition) to HRC – St. Louis using the contact info below.
Note: The Army Echoes Editor cannot make address changes!