By Daniel Wilkerson
The department which overseas retirement benefits for some veterans has proposed a 400 percent premium increase for enrollees over the next five years.
"We feel like some of that is to try to defer the cost of healthcare for the army and the military services and that's not what the healthcare system is set up for, nor the VA system," said Commander Glen Minor of the American Legion Department of Arkansas.
Under the plan officials said veterans would be divided into three tiers.
Tricare, the department which oversee the benefit, released the following concerning the three tiers:
"From FY2013 - 2016, the proposed enrollment fee increases for working age retirees are phased in. The proposed changes include a tiered fee structure based on an individual retiree's pension payment. Retirees in the Tier One category (pensions between $0 - $22,589) will have TRICARE Prime enrollment fees increase from the current annual fee of $520 to $600, or less than $7 per month in 2013. This group constitutes almost 50 percent of the eligible retiree families. Retirees in the Tier Two category (pensions between $22,590 - $45,178), constituting about 38 percent of the population, will have Prime enrollment fees increase from $520 to $720, a $200 increase, or about $17 per month. Retirees in Tier Three ($45,179 and above), constituting about 12 percent of the population, will have Prime enrollment fees increase from $520 to $820, or an increase of $25 per month.
From 2014 - 2016, this fee increases continue to be phased-in. By the end of the phase in period, the Tier One enrollees will be paying $330 annually more than they do today (although, by existing law, the $520 fee is already indexed to retiree Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)); Tier Two enrollments will be paying $920 more than they do today; and Tier Three retirees will be paying $1,430 more than they do today."
News of the change outraged veteran advocate organizations.
"It's a broken promise. Most of these young men were told that they would have free medical care and be taken care of for as long as they lived especially if they have wartime injuries," said Commander Minor. He said one group in particular will be greatly affected by the proposed plan. "This will primarily affect veterans who have retired out of the military and were promised health care benefits when they signed up and now... we're trying to go back on that promise."
Some area veterans question whether they would be affected by the changes.
"Once you served three years, twelve years, twenty years...whatever ...they get all of their benefits free. I know I do," said Edward Wright, a disabled veteran of Little Rock.
But according to Commander Minor, depending on the percentage of Wright's disability he could be among those affected.
"If you're 50 percent disabled or above ... they (government) will help you with your Tricare and your medical expenses. Below that then it's going to affect you," said Commander Minor.
Tricare said no changes will be made to those on active duty.
"For active duty families, there are no increases to TRICARE Prime enrollment fees. They pay nothing for enrollment today, and it stays that way," said a statement from Tricare. The department maintains the intent of the changes is to "improve overall health care and hold down cost growth."
"Unfortunately, under President Obama's budget, military families and retirees could see an unprecedented increase in their TRICARE premiums. The House budget, on the other hand, protects military families and retirees from these sharp increases, and that's just one of the many reasons why I will support the House budget tomorrow," said Representative Tim Griffin of Arkansas.