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Pallone, NJ Veterans Blast Harmful Veterans' Provisions Included in Republican Budget

Location: Brick, NJ


Budgets Substantially Increase Health Care Premiums for Military Retirees

Brick, NJ --- With the U.S. House of Representatives set to vote on a fiscal year 2007 budget this week, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and local veterans today blasted the Republican budget that falls short of meeting the needs of America's veterans, prevents some veterans from receiving the health care services they were promised and substantially increases deductibles for enlisted and military retirees.

The New Jersey congressman was joined today at a press conference outside of the James J. Howard Community Clinic in Brick by Don Marshall, Past State Commander and Member of the National Legislative Committee of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bill Rakestraw, National Executive Committeeman of the American Legion, and other local veterans.

Veterans' groups nationwide criticized both the budget proposed by President Bush in February and a Republican budget that passed out of the House Budget Committee last week along party lines. Earlier this year, veterans' service organizations concluded that the president's budget fell $1.6 billion short of fully addressing the needs of America's veterans. The president's budget would raise health care costs for one million veterans by imposing new fees that will cost veterans $2.6 billion over five years and will drive at least 200,000 veterans out of the system.

Last week, the House Budget Committee rebuked President Bush when it voted unanimously to increase veterans funding by $795 million, addressing nearly half of the funding shortfall.

Both Republican budgets also continue a three-year trend in denying promised health care access to Priority 8 veterans, veterans who earn more than $27,000 in annual income per year. In January 2003, the Bush administration stopped enrolling new Priority 8 veterans for medical help, impacting over one million veterans since then.

"Congress should not allow the Priority 8 enrollment ban to extend indefinitely," Pallone said. "The Bush administration is simply wrong in its belief that a veteran making $27,000 a year is in a high-income bracket. These veterans bravely served our nation in combat and do not deserve to be turned away from health care services they were already promised."

For the first time, both the Bush administration and the House Republican budgets also propose to double and triple health care premiums for about three million enlisted and officer retirees. Pallone said that annual enrollment fees for TriCare Prime, the military's managed care option, would triple by October 2008 for working-age retired officers and double for enlisted retirees. Yearly deductibles for retirees using Tricare Standard, the fee-for-service health insurance option, would double for officers and rise by a third for enlisted.

Pallone said these fee increases of more than $1,000 could drive more than 144,000 military retirees out of the Tricare system, leaving them without the health care they earned through at least 20 years of service.

"We simply cannot attract the best and brightest to fight the war on terrorism if Republicans in Washington break promises to our veterans and military retirees," Pallone concluded.

Specifics of the Bush administration's Tricare budget proposal that House Republicans left in place: Enrollment fees (now $230 for individuals/$460 for families) would be tripled for retired officers to $750/$1500 (individual/family) by October 2008. Enlisted retirees under 65 would see enrollment fees nearly double by October 2008 to $450/$900 (individual/family). First-ever enrollment fees for Tricare would start for officers at $150/$300 (individual/family) and rise to $300/$600 (individual/family) in 2008. Enlisted retirees would pay $100/$200 (individual/family) in October, rising to $200/$400 (individual/family) in 2008. Annual deductibles under Tricare for retired officers, now $150/$300 (individual/family) would double to $300/$600 (individual/family) in 2008. Enlisted retirees would see their Standard deductible rise to $200/$400 (individual/family) in October 2008.

The House will take up the fiscal year 2007 budget later this week. House Democrats will offer amendments to address the veterans' service organizations' concerns.

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