CAPT Marshall Hanson, USN (Ret)
While Charles Lane included facts in his March 25 Op-Ed entitled Tricare the Untouchable, his information is a bit dated. That which was published echoes past Pentagon press release that have been made over the last three years, which have spawned dozens of columns nearly identical to Mr. Lane’s, parroting the need to raise TRICARE fees for military retirees.
For the past three years, the Pentagon has attacked the level of TRICARE fees paid by TRICARE retirees, with the Department of Defense (DoD) claiming that these individuals are consuming “10 percent of the budget.” This press campaign is always a pre-curser to the President’s budget that will again ask for TRICARE fee increases once. The Reserve Officer Association strongly opposes any recommended increases, because the administration and the Pentagon want military retirees to carry an unjustified portion of the military healthcare.
Over eleven years of war have caused health care costs to sky rocket, as the Pentagon cares for an all-volunteer force, their families, and wounded warriors, as well a military retirees. Because of the demands on military health facilities, many retirees could no longer be treated on military bases, but were required by DoD to seek treatment from civilian health professionals. Retirees shouldn’t be the scapegoat for the $53 billion health program.
Active duty members get free health care, as they should. Their families don’t pay co-payments or enrollment fees on medical treatment. Once retired, members who have served honorably in the past are then expected to pickup a share of their TRICARE costs. DoD leadership complains this is too little.
Military health care costs have gone up for numerous reasons to include:
- Many new patients who are anxious children because a parent has been away at war.
- The number of TRICARE beneficiaries has increased to 9.6 million.
- Including increase numbers authorized by Congress to active duty Army and Marine Corps
- Reserve and Guard members, with over 875,000 mobilizations. Unlike active duty, Reserve Component members pay a premium for their health care when not deployed.
- A shift from hospitalization and surgery to maintenance prescriptions.
DoD officials really don’t know how their money is being spent. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted as much, with the Pentagon agreeing to an auditable financial statement before 2017. Unfortunately, this has led to inconsistency in details of cost.
At a House Armed Services hearing last year Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs claimed that the retiree costs would add $13 billion over the next five years to the defense budget, causing cuts to active duty end strength by 30,000 to 50,000 more troops. This exaggeration illustrates how badly DoD covets benefit dollars being spent on retirees.
In 2011, Robert Hale, then the Pentagon’s Chief Financial officer told Congress that the administration’s health plan would save at least $3.2 billion between 2012 and 2016. Either military health care costs are coming down, or the Pentagon has trouble estimating its actual costs.
In a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report it was found that DoD was over budget by $722 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2010, and $1.36 billion dollars in FY 2011.
In 2012, the Pentagon asked for another excess of $708 million from Health Care to be reprogrammed to other non-health programs. As Walter Pincus wrote in an 8-7-2012 Washington Post Article, “one recent reprogramming request would take $708 million that it did not require this year for private sector health care under the Pentagon’s Tricare system and use it on other programs.”
Over the last three years, the Pentagon has highlighted almost a $2.9 billion excess in the military health system, while claiming a $3.2 billion shortfall. It is obvious that the Administration and the Pentagon is asking Congress to “tax” by military retirees through higher TRICARE fees in order to spend health care dollars. Columnists like Mr. Lane should not issue knew-jerk responses to DoD press releases.
Congress hasn’t been impressed, taking the authority to set TRICARE fees away from the Pentagon over the last few years.
In what has become an annual battle between advocacy groups and the Pentagon, Congress acts as a referee who tallies up the score, and determines the final outcome.