Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to abandon his budget plan to increase the cost of health care for veterans enrolled with TRICARE. Rehberg urged the President to re-think his budget priorities and stop looking for budget cuts among veterans who have earned their benefits. In Montana, there are currently 34,427 TRICARE recipients, many of whom would face increases under President Obama's budget.
"Some of President Obama's allies in Congress are trying to say his budget protected veterans' benefits. But the details tell a much different story. And once veterans groups had a chance to read what was being proposed, they rightfully sounded the alarm," said Rehberg. "For Montana's vets, higher fees, higher taxes and lower benefits all have the same impact on a fixed budget. It's just wrong to ask these men and women to get by with less while we're dumping billions into brand new government programs that we simply can't afford. We owe it to our veterans to make good on the commitments we've already made. These veterans earned their benefits, and I'm going to fight for them the way they fought for us."
TRICARE is a health care program provided by the Department of Defense Military Health System. It provides civilian health benefits for military personnel, veterans and their dependents.
President Obama's 2013 budget requires the Defense Department to increase health insurance fees paid by many working-age military retirees. The President's budget includes changes to 3 TRICARE programs:
*TRICARE Prime currently has annual enrollment fees of $520 for retirees regardless of income level. The Budget proposes tiered increases where military retirees making more than $45,178 in annual retirement pay -- typical for middle-ranking officers who retire after two decades of service -- will be increased to $820 in the 2013 fiscal year. The Pentagon proposes that the fee for this tier be stepped up every year until it reaches $2,048 in 2017. There would be smaller fee increases for the two lower tiers who earn less in military retirement pay. Those earning less than $22,589 in annual retirement pay will be increased to $600 and those earning $22,590 to $45,178 will be increased to $720 for FY2013.
*The TRICARE Standard and Extra program will now require an annual enrollment fee and increased deductibles.
*The TRlCARE-for-Life (TFL) program does not have enrollment fees currently. The Budget proposes to implement annual fees for TFL coverage. These fees will be phased in over a 4-year period and use the same tiering based on the beneficiary's retired pay along with the same indexing and exemptions as the proposed TRlCARE Prime fees.
These harmful changes were immediately opposed by groups representing veterans, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Military Officers Association of America.
Rehberg's full letter is included below:
Dear Mr. President:
I'm writing to express serious concerns regarding the FY2013 Department of Defense Budget and its effects on Montana's veterans. The budget proposes considerable healthcare (TRICARE) increases for working age military retirees. It also proposes a new requirement, for several TRICARE programs, of an annual enrollment fee and increased deductibles.
Montanans have a long, distinguished history of military service. Our state is proudly home to more than a hundred thousand veterans, which is one of the highest per-capita populations of veterans in the country. That's why the new healthcare increases on our nation's veterans are so hard for Montanans to swallow. The increased fees fail to recognize that our career service-members already pay a high price for their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of their families, in a career dedicated to protecting our great nation.
These sacrifices are too great to be measured in words of thanks or medals of valor. Instead, we must try to honor their service by caring for their future needs and the needs of their loved ones. We must show our appreciation in our deeds and do more to ensure that veterans and their families can thrive in the nation they so bravely served.
I understand that difficult budget decisions must be made in our fiscal environment, however cutting benefits that were promised to our veterans is not the answer. This not only breaks a promise to those who have served, but it sets a bad example to those who are currently serving and those who plan on joining our country's military. Now is not the time to turn our backs on our veterans after they've upheld their end of the bargain. These men and women bravely put their lives on the line when America's security demanded it.
For this reason, I am writing to respectfully request that you rethink your budget priorities and scrap your plan to increase healthcare costs for our Veterans. Let's work together on improving the quality of life for our service-members and veterans.