STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
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Mr. DeWINE. Mr. President, I rise today to express my support for Senator LAUTENBERG's and Senator HAGEL's bill, the Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act, which I have co-sponsored. We must ensure that our military personnel and military retirees, as well as their families, have access to affordable, quality health insurance.
Over the past 10 years, military health care benefits have been greatly expanded to include Medicare eligible retirees, Reservists, and their families. Additionally, new options for health care have been added for active duty families, including an elimination of co-pays if the families use military treatment facilities instead of civilian doctors. Since 1995, health insurance costs have increased in the civilian sector, but TRICARE rates have not increased. If fees aren't increased and other avenues for funding TRICARE aren't explored, defense health care costs, alone, may rise to as much as $64 billion by 2015.
As part of the fiscal year 2007 budget request, the Department of Defense proposed a significant increase to the enrollment and prescription drug prices for military retirees under age 65 and survivors. This increase would more than double enrollment fees. In almost every case, that's an unfathomable single-year increase for families who live on a very tight budget. This is particularly troublesome when the Department of Defense has many other options that it may pursue to limit the mounting costs of medicine.
In addition, last year I worked to extend military health insurance to every dependent child of a deceased servicemember at no cost as if that parent were still alive and serving our Nation. The Department of Defense indicates that this important benefit could save dependents as much as $15,000 per year compared to the cost of private health insurance premiums. This cost-free extension of TRICARE Prime medical insurance to surviving minor children will alleviate one of the biggest worries on families today--and that's health care costs. However, if premiums and fees are increased drastically for the surviving spouse, worries about health care costs will still weigh heavily on these families. TRICARE Prime premium increases would undo the good we have accomplished on this front.
The legislation we are introducing today would begin to address the need for premiums and other health care fees to keep pace with the rise in health care costs, while keeping in mind the effect such increases would have on the yearly budget for our military retirees, survivors, and their families.
This proposal calls for a yearly increase in premiums that is equivalent to the cost of living increase that military retirees receive. For instance, if the cost of living increase is 2 percent, TRICARE Prime premiums will increase by 2 percent. Similarly, under this proposal, fees for TRICARE Reserve Select--which I have fought for with many of my colleagues--would increase by the same percent as the basic pay raise. I believe that these represent fair fee increases for the men, women, and families who have selflessly served our country.
Unfortunately, I understand that these modest fee increases will not completely solve the rising costs of providing superior military health care. I encourage the Department of Defense to explore other options for reducing the overall cost to taxpayers of delivering this benefit. For instance, the DoD should negotiate with drug manufacturers for discounts in the TRICARE retail pharmacy network and encourage beneficiaries to use the mail-order pharmacy. There are many more options available to DoD to fund this health care system, which I strongly urge them to explore.
I believe we owe a great debt of gratitude to those men, women, and families who served our country in the armed services in uniform and on the home front. It is essential that we honor our commitment and investigate all available options for funding our military health care system, rather than strap the bill on the backs of those who already have paid for their health insurance with their blood, sweat, and tears. I will continue to work with Senators Lautenberg and Hagel to ensure fair treatment of these men and women.