Congress urged to block Tricare fee increases
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Oct 8, 2009 6:00:05 EDT
The associations take issue with a $110-a-day increase in inpatient hospitalization charges for military retirees and their families using Tricare Standard.
In the meantime, the Tricare fee increases announced last week remain in effect, including a modest increase of less than $1 a day in for inpatient charges for active-duty families and the 21 percent increase in the daily hospitalization charge for retirees and their families.
A Tricare spokesman said it is only a coincidence that the Sept. 30 press release that announced the Oct. 1 increases had been pulled from the Tricare web site. A new release, with a more clear explanation of the fee increases, is being prepared, said spokesman Austin Camacho.
The increases may not be in effect for long, however, as congressional sources said lawmakers could announce as early as tomorrow that the 2010 defense authorization bill will include a provision barring the inpatient fee hikes from taking effect.
The prohibition being drafted would retroactively cancel the increase announced by Tricare officials, sources said, so that anyone who had paid the higher amount would get a refund.
Final approval of that language will happen on Wednesday when negotiators from the House and Senate armed services committee meet to hammer out final details of the bill, sources said.
The two groups that complained directly to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the increase are the Military Officers Association of America and the Reserve Officers Association.
Both groups, members of the larger Military Coalition, noted in letters to Gates that he had pledged there would be no increase in Tricare fees in fiscal 2010 while the Defense Department worked with Congress on ways to hold down health care costs.
Gates’ pledge came after three consecutive years in which Congress blocked attempts to increase Tricare enrollment fees, deductibles and copayments, and was part of an effort to work out some agreement with Congress so that fees could increase in the future.
“Earlier this year you stated that Tricare fees would not be increased in fiscal year 2010, and that you wanted to start a dialogue. ROA is disappointed to see a step away from this policy,” said retired Navy Reserve Rear Adm. Paul Kayye, ROA’s national president, in the group’s Oct. 5 letter to Gates. “Because of larger co-payments of 25 percent after the deductible, Tricare Standard is already the most expensive program. Increasing its expense will cause beneficiaries to transition into Prime, and increase DoD’s cost.”
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan Jr., president of MOAA, said in a Sept. 30 letter to Gates that the fee increases were a “shocking” and “extremely disappointing” announcement, “given your public assurances earlier this year that the Defense Department would not be proposing any Tricare fee increases for fiscal year 2010.”
“Because of your previous assurances, we believe these increases were undertaken without your knowledge or approval,” Ryan said.
Neither group has received a reply from Gates. Camacho, the Tricare spokesman, said the military associations will receive one.
Kayye said fee increases are a sore point for all Tricare users, especially for retirees who are “nervous and short-fused over the national health care debate” and any potential impact on Tricare benefits.
“DoD’s credibility with them is eroding with further fee increases,” Kayye said.
The changes announced last week include an increase of less than $1 in daily inpatient fees for active-duty families using Tricare Standard or Tricare Extra, and an increase in inpatient daily charges for retirees — to $645 a day, $110 more than the current rate.
Additionally, Tricare officials had announced a $5 increase in the daily out-of-pocket charge for retirees and their families receiving inpatient mental health care, which would bring the rate to $197 a day.