October 7, 2016
We'll have to wait at least another six weeks before Congress makes final decisions on the force levels, pay raise, TRICARE fees, and other changes in the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Act.
But we can be pretty sure of at least some of the new changes because they were included in both of the bill versions passed by the House and Senate.
Based on the above, here is what we expect the new defense bill will require.
- TRICARE Standard will have a new name (possibly TRICARE Preferred) and be reconstituted as a preferred provider network, which means some charges will be higher for visits with doctors who aren't in the new TRICARE network.
- The new version of TRICARE Standard/Preferred will have an annual enrollment requirement. If you're under 65 and in TRICARE Standard now, you've never had to explicitly enroll. If you didn't enroll in the HMO-style TRICARE Prime, you were automatically covered under Standard. No more. This is important: starting in 2017, retirees and family members under 65 will have to sign a document to enroll in either the version of Standard/Preferred or TRICARE Prime. If you don't actively enroll in one or the other, you and your family won't be covered by TRICARE. So you'll need to pay attention to notices about the annual enrollment period, starting next year.
- No later than January 2020, retired enrollees in the new version of TRICARE Standard/Preferred will have an annual enrollment fee. Again, this will be new, as Standard currently has no enrollment fee. If the House plan prevails in the final bill, the annual enrollment fee for 2020 will be $100/$200 for single/family. There is a possibility it could be more, depending on continuing negotiations between the House and Senate.
- Military medical facilities will be implementing a variety of initiatives to improve access to and quality of care, including a standardized appointment system, more use of telehealth services, adoption of common quality/performance measures, and displays of emergency room wait times.
SBP-DIC Survivors: We fully expect the current Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) - $310 per month as of this month - won't be allowed to expire next year. It will be extended for at least one year, which gives us another shot at seeking a further extension and continued increases in the SSIA amount to make more progress toward eliminating the SBP-DIC offset, which is our ultimate goal.
Commissaries: The commissary system will be testing “house brands” and a variable pricing system. This means shoppers at some locations might see increases and others might see decreases, although Congress still requires commissaries maintain the same overall levels of beneficiary savings and satisfaction.
Reimbursement for Drill-Related Travel: Both bills give service secretaries more flexibility to pay higher reimbursements, on a case-by-case basis, to members traveling beyond normal commuting distance.
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