President Barack Obama will submit his fiscal 2014 budget request to Congress on April 10, and talk on Capitol Hill indicates that TRICARE fee increases will be part of the formula for reducing defense costs. The American Legion wants Congress to do the same thing it did last year: reject all such increases.
TRICARE, the Department of Defense (DoD) health care program that covers about 8.8 million servicemembers, retirees and families, costs more than $50 billion per year and makes up about 10 percent of America's defense budget.
"Congress rejected a White House proposal last year to increase TRICARE fees for a very good reason," said John Stovall, director of the Legion's National Defense/Foreign Relations Division in Washington. "Hiking annual enrollment fees by about 400 percent for those who have served our country honorably in uniform is a very bad idea."
In its fiscal 2013 budget request, the Obama Administration recommended increasing the annual enrollment fee for TRICARE Prime (the most comprehensive plan) from $520 to $2,048 by 2017.
Stovall said The American Legion is well aware of the arguments put forth by DoD secretaries Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel: essentially, that funding for military health care and other benefits is taking an ever-increasing piece of DoD's budgetary pie. If the trend continues, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that military health care costs could reach $95 billion by 2030.
"Our military community has already earned its health-care benefits," Stovall said. "It has made tremendous sacrifices in two theaters of war, over more than a decade, and we have a moral duty to meet our obligations to them."
The Legion has flatly opposed any TRICARE fee increases because they are inappropriate for men and women who have made many sacrifices in an especially arduous and hazardous profession that cannot be compared with careers in the private sector.
At its annual national convention last August in Indianapolis, the Legion's voting membership passed Resolution 24 , which acknowledges "current fiscal realities" that require Americans to make "certain financial concessions." But "to unfairly burden America's military retiree families any further is unconscionable," and any attempt to boost TRICARE fees "is an erosion of quality of life" for servicemembers and retirees alike.
The resolution urges Congress "to decisively reject these unjust proposed increases in the military retirees' TRICARE enrollment fees, deductibles, or premiums."
"We understand the president's concerns," Stovall said. "He has to come up with a budget plan that will help to reduce defense spending by about a half-trillion dollars over a decade. But TRICARE and other military benefits need to be taken out of the equation."
Stovall said that increasing TRICARE payments "would be a real slap in the face to our military community. They know the impact these increases will have on their lives, and the lives of their families."