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Health Plan to Remain Free for Troops, Officials Emphasize

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2011 – Though Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates seeks modest premium increases for working-age military retirees who use the TRICARE Prime health plan, the benefit will remain free to service members, defense officials emphasized today.

Gates unveiled sweeping cost-cutting initiatives yesterday, including a recommendation to increase TRICARE Prime premiums for working-age retirees in fiscal 2012, the first increase in the plan’s 15-year history.

“For some time, I've spoken about the department's unaffordable health costs, and in particular the benefits provided to working-age retirees under the TRICARE program,” the secretary told reporters.

“Many of these beneficiaries are employed full-time while receiving their full pensions, and often forego their employers' health plan to remain with TRICARE,” he said. “This should not come as a surprise, given that the current TRICARE enrollment fee was set in 1995 at $460 a year for the basic family plan, and has not been raised since.”

Gates noted the dramatic increase in insurance premiums during that period for private-sector and other government employees. Federal workers pay roughly $5,000 a year for a comparable health insurance program, he said.

“Accordingly, with the fiscal year 2012 budget, we will propose reforms in the area of military health care to better manage medical cost growth and better align the department with the rest of the country,” Gates said. “These will include initiatives to become more efficient, as well as modest increases to TRICARE fees for … working-age retirees, with fees indexed to adjust for medical inflation.”

These initiatives could save the department as much as $7 billion over the next five years, he said.

Military retirees automatically are enrolled in one of two TRICARE plans, program spokesman Austin Camacho explained. Retirees who join TRICARE Prime, the system’s managed-care option that covers active-duty members, pay an annual enrollment fee of $230 per year for an individual or $460 for a family. Those in TRICARE Standard, a fee-for-service plan, pay no enrollment fee or premium. Instead, they pay a yearly deductible of $150 per person or $300 per family, as well as co-payments or cost shares for inpatient and outpatient care and medications, up to a $3,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

Military retirees aren’t required to report whether they have jobs that offer insurance plans, Camacho said, noting that having other insurance does not take them off the TRICARE rolls. Rather, he explained, TRICARE becomes the “second payer” for health care, picking up co-payments and deductibles from the primary insurance plan.

Meanwhile, the senior TRICARE officer told American Forces Press Service the system is poised to support Gates’ new efficiency measures and already is making progress as it strives to provide the best health care at the best cost.

“All of these things help us work together to help us achieve the secretary’s goals, and we are already starting to make progress,” Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Christine S. Hunter said. “We need to be very aware that there is a pressure [to improve efficiency and control costs] and the resources are not infinite. But we are all part of the solution.”


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Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Christine S. Hunter

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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

1/12/2011 2:50:59 PM
I spent over 20 years defending this country and expect nothing in return except for what was promised to me when I took my oath which was a small pension and free health care when I retired. If Mr. Gates needs to cut costs thats fine, but don't take it out on the military men and women who served their country proudly with honor and integrity. We didn't put this country in this financial situation and we should'nt have our benefits taken away because of it. If Mr Gates needs to make some changes with the military health care system then they need to grandfather everyone who signed up for and earned the benefits we receive by serving our country. If the Gov wants to make these changes with the military health care system then they can start now with the men and women who sign up today. G P Nellis CWO-3 USMC (Ret) Bettendorf Iowa.
- Gary P Nellis, Iowa

1/11/2011 10:18:46 AM
The article is of course hiding the obvious. I was promised free health care when I joined, for life upon ritirement. Yes I am still of working age. I have worked/contracted for the last 15 years since retiring. Purchased medical offered (although usless because you can't use it anywhere in a conflict area). In Afghanistan now. Wife took my child to the doctor. Cost 63 USD for the visit. That'is with civilian insurance and Tricare. With just Tricare I would pay my co-pay. VA doesn't care. Thats an even bigger joke. I tried living and working in the states but no one wants 50+. Tried to make ends meet on retirement and went into debt. I'm back overseas so I can support my family. Don't get me started on dental. I don't support any increases in case you didn't understand the bitterness. Just man up and take care of us will you.....
- Craig King, Austin, Texas

1/8/2011 10:00:24 PM
Are you kidding me??? Your comparing federal workers to retired military personnel. Who does this guy think he is anyway??? I spent 23 years of my life defending this country and all I ask for in return is health-care for me and my family. I personally fought in (3) separate campaigns for this government and now you civilians who have never served a day in combat think we are getting off easy. I could walk around the base I live near and find many things to cut first (federal employees to start). Don't do this to us, we deserve the low rates we pay and NEVER compare us to a Civilian Federal Worker. James Crewell, SgtMaj USMC (Ret)
- James Crewell SgtMaj USMC (Ret), Havelock NC

1/8/2011 5:39:47 AM
As a retiree, I'm not surprised that Gates would throw retirees under the bus when it came time for budget cuts. This should be a lesson to active duty soldiers that once the Army is done with you - the politicians (and Gates is a politician) will forget their committment to you.
- Larry, Alabama

1/7/2011 3:32:10 PM
Shame on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for implying that retirees are taking advantage of something they have not already paid for with over 20 years of faithful service. I wonder how many people would have left the sacrifices of service life behind if they had any idea that their government would not keep it's word. Unless the government has invented a time machine and can give us back our 20+ years of service then leave the benefits and services that we have earned alone. I realize that you can't fight city hall, but how can anyone have any faith in their elected officials when this type of activity is going on. SFC USA (ret)
- Robert L. Spaulding, NC

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