Defense Bill: Pay, SBP, TRICARE, and Housing Wins

December 2, 2016

House and Senate leaders resolved hundreds of differences between their respective versions of the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Bill, and followed MOAA's and The Military Coalition's recommendations on most of them. 

Here's a summary of selected outcomes. 

Currently Serving Issues

  • Pay raise: Approves a 2.1 percent 2017 military raise (matching the average American's), rather than the 1.6 percent proposed by DoD.
  • Force levels: increases for all services significantly above the Pentagon proposals.
  • Housing Allowance: Rejects a Senate-proposed plan that would have cut allowances by tens of thousands of dollars a year for dual-servicemember couples and other military members who share housing.
  • Spouse Employment: Eliminates 2-year eligibility limitation (after PCS) for noncompetitive appointment of military spouses to federal civilian positions.
  • Parental Leave: Authorizes up to 12 weeks of paid leave (including 6 weeks medical recuperation leave) for primary caregiver after childbirth; 21 days authorized for servicemember who is the secondary caregiver.

Survivor Benefits

  • Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance: Extends this allowance for SBP-DIC widows through May 2018 at the current $310 monthly rate (this will give us an opportunity to push Congress next year to increase and further extend the allowance, or eliminate the offset in its entirety).
  • SBP for Reserve Components: Upgrades Survivor Benefit Plan formula for Reserve Component members who die while on inactive duty for training to equal SBP benefits for those who die on active duty.

TRICARE Benefits and Fees

  • There will be no changes to TFL. The bill rejects the Pentagon proposal to impose an annual TFL enrollment fee of up to 2 percent of military retired pay.
  • Rejects a DoD proposal to roughly double TRICARE pharmacy copays over 10 years.
  • Imposes significantly increased fees and copays only for those who will enter service on or after January 1, 2018.
  • Grandfathers currently serving and currently retired members and families against most increases.
  • EXCEPT current retirees and family members enrolled in TRICARE Standard (to be renamed TRICARE Select) will pay a new enrollment fee of $150/$300 (single/family) per year, starting in 2020 (NOTE: Chapter 61 (medical) retirees and survivors of members who died on active duty will be exempt from this enrollment fee).
  • Establishes a new requirement for retired members and families (except TFL) to execute a formal annual enrollment in either TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select, starting in 2017 (IMPORTANT: this means they will have to physically sign a piece of paper to enroll; enrollment will be required for TRICARE coverage).
  • Eliminates a requirement to get pre-authorization for urgent care, and requires all military medical facilities to maintain urgent care hours until 11 p.m.
  • Authorizes DoD to provide hearing aids to family members of retirees at DoD cost.
  • Authorizes a pilot program of offering commercial insurance coverage to Reserve component members and families on the same basis as federal civilians.
  • Requires implementation of standard appointment system at all military facilities no later than Jan. 1, 2018, including issuance of appointment on first call and 24/7 online service availability.
  • Authorizes retired members and families to participate in federal civilian dental and vision plan (the current retiree dental program will go away).
  • Restores provider payments for treatment of autism to higher rates that were in effect before April 2016.

Military Health Care Reform

  • Places all military hospitals and clinics under the authority of the Defense Health Agency for purposes of budgeting, health care policy, and health care administration.
  • Requires pilot program of value-based care, which would reimburse providers at higher rate for providing top-quality care and reduce or eliminate copays for high-value medications and medical services.
  • Requires new TRICARE contracts to improve beneficiary access, improve medical outcomes, improve quality of care, enhance beneficiary experiences, and reduce DoD health care costs.
  • By mid-2017, incorporate into annual performance review of all military and civilian health care leaders' measures of accountability for patient access to care, quality of care, improvement in health care outcomes, and patient safety.
  • By January 2018, implement productivity standards (e.g., patients seen per day) for all providers in military treatment facilities (this is intended to improve patient access to timely care).

Other Matters

  • Includes a provision aimed at ensuring fair treatment for California Guardsmen who have been targeted for recoupment of incentive bonuses paid to them 10 years ago.
  • Rejected the Senate's proposal mandating female Selective Service registration, and instead included a requirement to review the continuing need for Selective Service System registration and the potential for a national service program.
  • Requires a DoD report on travel costs incurred by Reserve Component members.

House lawmakers approved the bill 375 to 34, and the Senate followed suit in a 92-7 vote. 

 

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