Crunch Time for Pay, TRICARE, and more

October 6, 2017

It is crunch time for key issues like pay raises, health care fees, and survivor benefits. The top leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees met this week to outline the beginnings of a conference committee to smooth out differences in their respective versions of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The defense bill carries many of MOAA's most pressing priorities every year, so this is likely the last chance to draw the line in the sand on these big issues until next year. As we continue to put the pressure on the conferees over a long list of issues, we remain steadfast in our positions on the following provisions.

NDAA Priorities fy18

 

Pay Raise: Support the House provision granting the 2.4 percent military pay increase.

Military pay raises are appropriately tied to the civilian sector's Employment Cost Index (ECI).  Capping the military pay raise beneath ECI, even by one-third of a percent, results in significant financial losses to a servicemember over time and into retirement.

For example, the annual impact of the proposed pay raise cap for an E-6 with 14 years of service is $135 a year, which may seem inconsequential to some budgeters. But when you factor in pay caps going back to 2013, the cumulative impact is substantial, totaling more than $1,300 a year for the same individual.

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): Oppose the Senate provision eliminating the with-dependent rate for dual-member couples with children

A Senate provision would eliminate the with-dependent housing allowance rate for military couples stationed together with children. This unfairly reduces earnings even as servicemembers continue to face the demands of repeated deployments and the recruiting environment worsens.  BAH is part of the military compensation package, and eroding military compensation is the wrong move at the wrong time.

If the Senate proposal passes, an O-3 in a dual-military marriage with dependents stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, would stand to lose $2,628 annually. Couples should not be penalized for marrying another servicemember; no other employer levies a marriage penalty. 

TRICARE Fees: Oppose the Senate provisions repealing the grandfathering clause for current beneficiaries and increasing pharmacy copayments. 

Congress made it clear military health care reform would be coming after revisions of the retirement system. The Senate's latest proposals, however, go too far in raising fees without recognition of the impact on current beneficiaries. 

Last year, currently serving and retired beneficiaries were explicitly exempted from new fee structures with TRICARE. Now, Congress may repeal that grandfathering provision, resulting in steep fee increases for all without any commensurate increase in health care access or quality. 

Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA): At a minimum, and absent full repeal of the SBP-DIC offset this year, SSIA should be extended 10 years, with incremental increases to the monthly amount to assist affected survivors. 

In 2007, Congress recognized the unfairness of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset and authorized the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) as a vehicle to repeal the offset gradually. 

SSIA will expire in 2018 if nothing is done. The Senate has a proposal to address the issues, but MOAA has serious concerns: It extends the benefit at current levels, with increases indexed to COLA. This would remove any incentive for lawmakers to go back to fix the financial penalty 65,000 survivors face. 

And the proposal is paid for by increasing pharmacy fees for everyone. MOAA has consistently said the offset must be completely eliminated by means other than increased fees for other benefits.

Singling out beneficiaries instead of cutting costs within DoD or other programs is wrong. There are other ways to save money before turning to beneficiaries' wallets.

Hospice Services for Children: Support the Senate provision allowing hospice care coverage for children also receiving curative care. 

Children diagnosed with terminal illness on TRICARE are not currently eligible for hospice services while receiving curative healthcare treatments because Medicare laws prohibit it. Curative care can include important quality of life services like physical therapy for children who are still be mobile despite facing the end of life. Legislation is needed to allow DoD to provide the two essential services concurrently.  

The messages you send your legislators make a difference in what will happen. Each time an office hears from you, the chance for a favorable outcome for servicemembers and their families' increases. 

As noted in last week's article, “ MOAA Compares House and Senate Versions of NDAA 2018,” Congress is short on time to get things done. We need your help now! Make sure your voice is heard on these critical issues before final decisions are made. 

Send your legislators this MOAA-suggested message urging them to pass a bill commensurate with the service and sacrifice of those who serve. 

 

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