Veterans hit with hike in healthcare costs


By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook

Most veterans have been laboring under the notion that the GOP tax cut and budget plans had no effect on them. Wrong. To balance the federal budget after Congress approved Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, even veterans will be required to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for their healthcare. The TRICARE military healthcare program is one of the federal programs to take a hit.

TRICARE, formerly known as the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniform Services (CHAMPUS), is the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System. It was established to create a comprehensive managed care program for retired military and their families. The program covers all uniformed services, including the National Guard.

The plan passed by Congress in 2016 included a “grandfather” clause that protected current TRICARE users from increases. However, the plan that went into effect January 2018 circumvents those protections according to most military family advocates. Karen Ruedisueli, a deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, stated, “They made it so complicated some people will be paying more. This is against the whole concept of grandfathering”. The Trump administration’s plan eliminates the grandfather clause altogether, exposing current working-age retirees to higher healthcare fees, deductions, co-pays, and prescription costs. Only the elderly on TRICARE for Life (TFL) and Medicare would be spared the price hike for their medical care.

The following is a description of some of the increases. A participation fee would be set for TRICARE Standard and Extra which were merged and renamed TRICARE Select. Veterans covered under this plan will pay $450 a year for single coverage and $900 for family coverage, and an increased annual deductible of $150 within network and $300 for out-of-network providers. Deductibles for family coverage would be $300 for in-network and $600 for out-of network. It is estimated that out-of-pocket costs for a non-Medicare eligible retiree family of three would rise from $1517 to $1986. The costs for working age retirees would increase from 8.6 percent to 11.3 percent. Catastrophic caps on total out-of-pocket health costs would increase from $3000 to $3500 annually per family. The TRICARE fees, deductibles, co-pays, and drug costs would be adjusted yearly to keep pace with inflation. Over the next twelve years, the administration would steadily increase co-pays for most drugs through retail pharmacies and add new fees to those received by mail. However, drugs received on bases at military pharmacies will continue to be free.

Advocates for veterans and their families have vigorously opposed these changes as broken promises to those who served and sacrificed for their country in the military. They fear the administration’s ultimate goal is to push veterans into private healthcare coverage to reduce costs to the federal government for the health coverage provided to military retirees in the past. That certainly is not an appropriate thanks for the service and sacrifice those brave men, women, and families have given to their country. A much better plan would be to correct the backlog of appointments in the nation’s veterans’ hospitals and leave military retirees’ TRICARE benefits alone.

Hopefully, it is not too late for Congress to change course and reconsider adding the burden of higher healthcare costs to those who have already given so much to our country.

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