As I mentioned in my intro to the blog, I'm concerned that given the economic and fiscal problems, cuts in both military spending and veteran's benefits are looming.
A friend sends me an email circulating among us retired folks from BG Bob Clements. Clements is an old WWII P-38 pilot who fought the good fight years ago to ensure TRICARE For Life was extended to all retired service personnel. I want to stress - this is a benefit, not a giveaway. It is something you earned for making a career out of the military.
To refresh your memory:
TRICARE For Life (TFL) was introduced in 2002 as a supplement to Medicare for military retirees and their family members who are eligible for Medicare. The program pays nearly all medical costs not covered by Medicare and requires few out-of-pocket fees.
However, it appears that is in jeopardy.
And BG Clements makes a very important point:
People who are professionals always look for the channel of least resistance when it comes to cutting money out of the Federal and DOD budget. I can tell you this straight on, military retirees are one of those channels of least resistance noted for sitting around, doing nothing, and waiting for ole Joe to do it for them. You had better wake up. Your medical benefits are prime target. If you lose them, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Let me repeat that ... you have nobody to blame but yourself.
The way to secure your benefits is to write to your members of Congress and to keep writing and writing and writing. ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH!! Keep repeating the above statement until you are blue in the face.
His point is well taken and if you pay any attention to how politics work, you know that politicians are loath to do something unpopular if they can avoid it. The obvious thing to do, then, is make this sort of thing very unpopular among national politicians.
The plan to cut the retiree benefits is contained in this Congressional Budget Office pdf. It is entitled "Budget Options, Volume I: Health Care". Its purpose, per the preface, is to "present 115 options for reducing (or, in some cases, increasing) federal spending on health care, altering federal health care programs, and making substantive changes to the nation’s health insurance system."
Scan the table of contents. Note some of the programs it addresses and also notice how many of them have planned expansions. Guess which program it doesn't plan to expand and, instead, is on the table for reductions?
There are 3 options specifically addressing TRICARE:
Option 95. Increase Health Care Cost Sharing for Family Members of Active-Duty
Option 96. Introduce Minimum Out-of-Pocket Requirements Under TRICARE For Life
Option 97. Increase Medical Cost Sharing for Military Retirees Who Are Not Yet
Eligible for Medicare
They can be found on pages 173 - 178. I found, in reading the specifics, a cynicism which is particularly loathsome. For instance, in the discussion of Option 96:
An advantage of this option is that greater cost sharing would increase TFL beneficiaries’ awareness of the cost of health care and promote a corresponding restraint in their use of medical services. Research has generally shown that introducing modest cost sharing can substantially reduce medical expenditures without causing measurable increases in adverse health outcomes.
After that little salve for their consciences, they admit:
Among its disadvantages, this option could discourage some patients (particularly low-income patients) from seeking preventive medical care or from managing their chronic conditions under close medical supervision, which might negatively affect their health.
There, in writing, is how much they think of their veterans. They're willing to risk your health in order to save a few dollars and pass them over to other federal programs.
And for you retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare (like me), the same cynicism is evident in Option 97 as well:
The option would reduce DoD’s outlays in three ways. First, the increased fees would be used to directly offset the costs of treating military retirees. Second, the higher out-of-pocket costs would induce some retirees who would otherwise have used TRICARE to enroll in a civilian health plan instead. Third, the higher copayments and deductibles would reduce the use of health care services by military retirees who remained in TRICARE.
It's all there for anyone to read, and you and your families are the target. They have numerous options listed to expand health care coverage for those who haven't earned it, but for those who have - well read the excerpts if nothing else, to see how they plan to treat you.
For all the lip service that Congress and Democrats have given over the years about taking care of our veterans, there, in writing, are the only options being presented in the CBO's list of all options for healthcare - reduce the promised veteran retiree benefit.
I suggest you take BG Clement's word to heart and flood Congress and the Department of Veteran's Affairs with letters and emails telling them that these options are unacceptable and should taken off the table now. Like he said, saying it once is not enough - keep the pressure on until we're assured that the benefits our veterans have earned are kept at the level they were promised.