December 21, 2012
By Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret)
For decades, MOAA has sought to rationalize compensation and benefits policy by establishing statutory principles for setting and adjusting the various elements.
We won standards in law for setting pay raises, adjusting retired pay and survivor benefits and most other compensation issues.
But many TRICARE adjustment authorities have been left to the discretion of the secretary of defense.
For years, there was no issue with that, because multiple secretaries didn’t propose any significant changes.
That all changed when more recent defense secretaries proposed dramatic increases in various TRICARE fees.
After rejecting those efforts several years in a row, Congress finally agreed last year with MOAA’s proposal to establish in law the percentage increase in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for any year shouldn’t exceed that year’s percentage increase in retired pay.
This year, after the secretary of defense followed up last year’s $2 to $3 increase in TRICARE pharmacy copayments with a proposal to jump them an additional $22 to $31 per prescription, Congress finally agreed it’s time to take that authority out of the Pentagon’s hands.
The clincher was leaving pharmacy copayment hikes up to the secretary of defense put Congress in a serious budget box.
Under Congress’ budget rules, if they failed to allow DoD-proposed copayment hikes, they had to make up the lost revenue by imposing other cuts in retirement, survivor, or TRICARE For Life (TFL) benefits.
But if the copayment adjustment formula were set in law, Congress would be able to reject any future Pentagon-proposed hikes without being forced into alternative benefit cuts.
That’s why they came up with the one-time offset of requiring TFL-eligibles to try (for one year) either mail-order or military pharmacy refills of maintenance medications – to offset the cost of capping future copayment hikes at the annual COLA percentage.
In effect, Congress told the Pentagon, “You’ve repeatedly abused the adjustment authority we gave you and show no signs of changing that behavior, so we’re taking your authority away. Instead, we’re putting a formula in law that will ensure future adjustments are more appropriate and predictable.”
That’s a little lesson in leadership that’s been long overdue.
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