Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vets face higher co-pays

Vets face higher co-pays

Retirees targeted amid debate on healthcare reform
Fight over name of road isn't over
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By John Yaukey
Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and the Pentagon appear poised for what promise to be contentious talks about how to reform the healthcare system for veterans — now the fastest-growing component of the defense budget.

One suggestion being debated would require that working-age military retirees contribute more in co-payments and premiums through the armed forces' Tricare system.

It's not yet clear how much more, or whether the measure would even make it through Congress.

But it marks yet another attempt by the Pentagon to deal with rising health costs — unsuccessfully so far — and the significant hurdles it faces on Capitol Hill, where concern for veterans' well-being now runs high.

"Rising healthcare costs are claiming a larger portion of the defense budget," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

"But we must be sure that any changes do not impact the quality and access to healthcare earned by those who have served our country honorably."

One of those is Will Heinze, who lives near York, Pa., and was invited along with other retired veterans from Pennsylvania to attend a recent Senate hearing on veterans' benefits.

"Many of us are on fixed incomes," he said. "Raising any of these costs will price some of us out."

The military healthcare debate will unfold as lawmakers and the Obama administration — via the Pentagon — negotiate military spending over the coming months for the fiscal 2010 budget.

The Pentagon is projected to spend roughly $47 billion on healthcare in fiscal 2010, out of what's expected to be a $533 billion defense budget request.

"Healthcare is eating the (Defense) Department alive," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an April 15 speech at Alabama's Maxwell Air Force Base.

"Part of the problem is we cannot get any relief from the Congress in terms of increasing either co-pays or the premiums," he said.

It's not for lack of trying.

During each of the past three years of the Bush administration, the Pentagon tried to raise Tricare fees. But Congress rejected the increases and added the money back into the defense budget each time.

Even lawmakers known for their strong advocacy for veterans acknowledge there's a serious problem with health costs. But they argue the Pentagon has been too heavy-handed in the past, attempting to foist unacceptably large cost increases onto retirees in too short a time span.

"That would be a total breach of the promise this country made to our career military personnel, and it is simply unacceptable," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

"On the other hand, many retirees and the organizations that represent them want a permanent freeze on fees and co-pays, and that is not practical. Congress and the Pentagon must have a reasonable dialogue about phasing in acceptable fee increases for Tricare and controlling the costs of healthcare, and we must do it very soon," Abercrombie said.

The headline is inflammatory, the article discusses military retirees having their Tricare costs rise, NOT co pays for VA hospital care. I don't think there has been an increase on Tricare in the past decade despite double digit annual medical care costs, even at the Post Office we had annual cost increases on out health care policies and increaed co-pays. Yes, I know the arguments, but realistically most military retirees also get health care from their civilian jobs after they get a new job after leaving the military in their late 30s or early 40s.

Between the healthcare from the new job and the Tricare most retirees pay no out of pocket expenses, so it isn't exactly like you are being pried loose of your last nickel is it?

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