MOAA, DoD Witnesses Clash on TRICARE Fees. There were a few
fireworks atWednesday’s House Armed
Services Committee hearing on military health programs. It featured a witness panel composed of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), the three services’ Surgeons
General, and MOAA Government Relations Director Col Steve Strobridge
MOAA Testifies on Vet Issues. MOAA’s Deputy Director for Government
Relations, COL Bob Norton, USA (Ret) presented the Association’s legislative
agenda Thursday on VA health care and benefits issues before a joint hearing of
the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees.
TRICARE West Contract Awarded. TRICARE upheld a
protest of the West region contract and finally awarded the contract to UnitedHealth
Military and Veterans Services.
Witnesses Clash on TRICARE Fees
House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing on defense health
programs featured starkly contrasting inputs from DoD and MOAA witnesses.
Government Relations Director Col. Steve Strobridge (USAF-Ret) was the only
association witness called to testify, and he sat on the same panel with
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) Dr. Jonathon Woodson and the
Army, Navy and Air Force Surgeons General.
the Defense witnesses outlined plans for military health programs, including
the proposed dramatic increases in TRICARE fees, Strobridge strongly challenged
the fee hikes.
Noting defense leaders’ pledge not to impose retirement
changes for currently serving people, he asserted, “If keeping faith means no
changes for today’s troops on retirement, it’s breaking faith to raise their
retirement health fees by $2,000. It’s
the same as a $2,000 retired pay cut.
And if it’s breaking faith to change the rules for someone with 1 year
of service, it’s doubly so for those who already completed 20 or 30.”
Addressing why military fees are lower than most civilians
pay, Strobridge said, “When someone gives me that argument, I ask, ‘If the
military deal is so great, are you willing to pay what they did to earn
it? Would you sign up to spend the next
20 years being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or any
other garden spot the government wants to send you to?’ Military people already pay far steeper
premiums for health coverage than any civilian ever has or ever will.”
He called the proposed plan to means-test TRICARE fees based
on the beneficiary’s retired pay patently discriminatory against the military.
“No other federal retiree has health benefits means-tested, and it’s rare in
the civilian world,” he said. “Under
that perverse system, the longer and more successfully you serve, the lower
your health benefit.”
Strobridge also challenged Pentagon leaders for failing in
their own responsibility to reform the stove-piped military healthcare delivery
system to make it more efficient. He
said the Defense Department’s recent review made minimal changes, in part
because the decision process gave heavy weight to how hard a change would
be. “So the first choice was to make
retirees pay more, because it was easier.”
Finally, he expressed MOAA’s and The Military Coalition’s strong
objection to the proposal to index TRICARE fees to some measure of health cost
growth. “We believe the percentage
increase in any year should not exceed the percentage growth in military
retired pay,” Strobridge said.
members gave every appearance of sharing MOAA’s view.
Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC) called the Pentagon fee plan “wrong-headed”, and
noted the unfairness of having an E-7 with 28 years of service pay more for
healthcare than an E-7 with 20 years of service.
year, GAO put out a report indicating there’s $200 billion to $300 billion
spent on redundant and duplicative government programs,” observed Rep. Allen
West (R-FL). “Why don’t we look at that
before we start penalizing people who have given a lifetime of service to this
country?” Speaking to Dr. Woodson, West
said, “You’ve got to tell [Defense] Secretary Panetta, this is FUBAR.”
a video of the hearing at http://armedservices.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=57
on Vet Issues
Deputy Director for Government Relations COL Bob Norton (USA-Ret) presented the
Association’s legislative agenda for VA health care and benefits issues before
a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees on
Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), respective Chairs of the
Senate and House Committees, welcomed MOAA and other service organization
witnesses to take recommendations on a range of issues concerning our nation’s
Co-Chairs noted their Committees recent record of bi-partisan, bi-cameral
thanked the Committees for the tremendous support for veterans over the past 15
years and urged their support for several priority needs, including:
a single office to streamline overlapping and confusing DoD and VA full-time
caregiver programs for severely disabled veterans
vigorous oversight of VA programs for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic
Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury and to meet the unique health care needs of
women veterans, the fastest growing group of VA enrollees
mandated upgrades to the transition assistance program (TAP) are working as
intended for veterans facing a difficult employment market
of GI Bill programs from certain unscrupulous for-profit colleges preying on
military and veteran students and upgrade of campus-based support programs
Post-911 GI Bill benefits to surviving spouses of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars
(which are currently only available to surviving children)
also outlined MOAA’s involvement in the “Community Blueprint” pilot project in
Valdosta, Georgia – one of three MOAA pilots – that brings together community,
state, Federal and service organization partners to support veterans’
readjustment. The Valdosta pilot is
working with local companies to recruit and train 200 veterans using their GI
Bill benefits with construction jobs guaranteed on completion of the training.
statement also covered needed actions to address the VA claims backlog,
vocational rehabilitation, National Guard and Reserve issues – including
recognition as veterans of career reservists who performed military duties on
other-than-federal active-duty orders.
Last Friday, Defense health officials announced that it
would award the TRICARE West region contract to UnitedHealth Military and
The award followed an extended appeal process following
the Pentagon’s original contract award to TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which
has managed the West region contract for the last eight years.
The West region contract covers 21 states, including Alaska,
Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota,
Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South
Dakota, Utah, western Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
This is only the latest in a series of successful contract
appeals that resulted in the overturning of DoD’s original contract awards for
all three TRICARE regions. Ironically,
TriWest was the only incumbent to win renewal in the original contract award. After successful appeals in each region,
they’re now the only incumbent not to be renewed.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t say much about the TRICARE
contract award process.
And the saga isn’t necessarily over yet, as TriWest is
considering its own protest of the new contract award.
What does this mean for military beneficiaries in the West
region? For at least the next year,
nothing will change, as TriWest will continue to manage the contract through
TriWest CEO and President David McIntyre Jr. said, “While we
wait to learn about the basis for the Government’s decision…military families
in the West Region continue to receive the exemplary customer service they have
become accustomed to over the last several years.”
According to Defense health officials, a substantial number
of providers in the TriWest network also have arrangements with UnitedHealth,
and every effort will be made during the transition to ensure TRICARE beneficiaries’
continuity of quality care. But it’s
possible that some beneficiaries will need to find new doctors who participate
in the UnitedHealth network.
When the new contract takes effect in April 2013, it’s
expected that TRICARE Prime networks in all three regions will be limited to
areas around military installations.
Prime networks previously established at other locations are expected to
go away, which means current Prime beneficiaries who don’t reside near military
installations likely will be moved to TRICARE Standard coverage.