By CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret)
Director of Legislation and Naval Services
Last week ROA met with representatives from the TRICARE Management Activity, where the Association and other organizations were briefed on the implementation of TRICARE Standard for Gray Area retirees. This was in response to a request by ROA, and a follow-up to an article published in Military Times, where ROA was quoted on its disappointment about a proposed DoD time schedule announced by DoD Health Affairs that would have implementation complete in 11 to 18 months.
The briefing shared that the new benefit should not be referred to as TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) for Gray Area Retirees, as TRS is viewed as a separate program. This new benefit will be given a new name, and is viewed as a major implementation process, because it affects many different aspects of the military health program and military data collection such as Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Reassurances were made that the timetable is not linked to the new TRICARE contracts that will begin in about a year, and that the implementation team is being proactive. A draft of the interim federal rules have already been completed, and will be reviewed by the leadership of the various offices being affected by this new program.
The legislative language enacting TRICARE Standard for Gray Area retirees said "that the monthly amount of the premium ...shall be the amount equal to the cost of coverage that the Secretary determines on an appropriate actuarial basis." A number of sources, including the briefing, have indicated that the gray area population is a higher health risk, and the premiums will likely be higher than the estimates published by ROA earlier. The current premiums for drilling Reservists are $47.51 for individuals and $180.17 for families. ROA was warned that at a minimum the Gray Area premiums will be at least 4 times that amount. The drilling premiums could also be increased by DoD in January as is allowed by the original law.
ROA continues to voice its concern over the delays in implementation and feels that actuarial adjustments for an older group are not what was intended. This group doesn't have a lot of the health care costs that younger serving members do who are just starting their families. One of the intentions of including the gray area into the TRICARE system was to take advantage of the group risk pool reduction to save premium costs. National Guard and Reserve retirees should not be paying extra to cover DoD health care costs, when the Pentagon has yet to analyze where its health care money is being spent.
ROA has also voiced the concern to members of The Military Coalition and the National Military and Veterans Alliance that if one group is allowed by Congress to be targeted for higher TRICARE premiums, the other active retirees groups will be targeted for TRICARE fee increases as well.