The American Legion national organization applauds the House Armed Services Committee for approving a defense budget bill Thursday morning that, while allowing for modest increases in TRICARE premiums for working-age retirees, restricts the Department of Defense’s ability to raise fees in the future. TRICARE is the military health insurance program serving active-duty servicemembers, National Guard and reserve members, and military career retirees and their families.
As the House Armed Services Committee crafted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the coming fiscal year, it responded to arguments by The American Legion leadership and others on the TRICARE premium issue. The Legion, according to a recently adopted resolution, “…resists increases in TRICARE premiums to retirees and adamantly opposes any proposal that will significantly and negatively impact quality of life benefits for honorable military service…and [requests] that any increase must be directly tied to and not exceed the annual cost of living adjustment percentage provided to retirees.”
The provision in the legislation capping future fee increases, championed by Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, followed the Legion proposal closely. It called for nominal increases in TRICARE premiums tied to the annual cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) granted eligible military personnel. This would keep premium increases lower than those proposed by DoD, which had asked that premium hikes be aligned with the far higher annual National Health Expenditure index rate. However, neither the Pentagon nor the House Armed Services Committee budget proposals contain provisions for TRICARE premium increases for military retirees over the age of 65 or for survivors of military veterans.
American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster, reacted happily to news of the passage. “We are grateful to Congressman McKeon and his colleagues who have remembered, as we do, that our military retirees have given decades of service to our country, risking their lives in combat, often serving under arduous conditions and being separated from their families,” Foster said. “Keeping their insurance rates low is one way we can repay them for their honorable service, and assure them of our nation’s gratitude.”
In language accompanying the defense bill intended to discourage a future congress from raising military retirees’ health care costs dramatically, McKeon noted that, “Career members of the uniformed services and their families endure unique and extraordinary demands and make extraordinary sacrifices over the course of a 20- to 30-year career protecting freedom for all Americans” and “… those decades of sacrifice constitute a significant prepaid premium for health care during a career member’s retirement that is over and above what the member pays with money.”
The measure will now go to the House floor for debate. Final passage is expected later this month or in early June. The Senate will then take up the legislation.
“We are hopeful that the final bill will be sent to the president for his signature by early fall,” Foster said. “As we all are aware, our country is deep in debt and sacrifice will be required of all, but America’s military men and women have sacrificed plenty for the nation’s cause already, especially those who have served 20 or more years. This legislation explicitly acknowledges that.
“We look forward to similar, favorable action by the full House and on the Senate side. That would be no less than what our women and men in uniform, past and present, deserve.”