Retired Military Health Benefits Not “On the Chopping Block,” Yet

As I pointed out, here, and here, the blogosphere has been rife with rumors and innuendoes about how President Obama is trying to cut off funds for TRICARE For Life (“Cutting it out of the budget as a means to provide funding for those things he promised during the campaign.”)

TRICARE For Life is an excellent and essential secondary health insurance program supplementing Medicare for certain military retirees and their families. These veterans have more than earned such benefits through their sacrifice and service to our nation, and those benefits must not be even reduced, let alone “cut-off.”

However, hysteria surrounding unfounded and premature rumors neither helps the veterans now, nor will it make their legitimate chorus of protest—should such be ever necessary—more credible or powerful.

Fortunately, voices of reason and moderation are beginning to emerge.

Two in particular come from very reputable military organizations.

Here’s what they have to say:

The Reserve Officers Association (ROA):

A viral e-mail campaign is unsettling military retirees over 65. Sourcing a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, these e-mails claim that TRICARE for Life is at risk. These distress warnings are overstated.

The report, on Budget Options, Volume 1: Health Care lists 115 options for reducing federal spending on health care, altering federal healthcare programs, and making substantive changes to the nation’s health insurance system. But these are not formal recommendations. The suggestion for TRICARE for Life is only Option 96 on the list. None are formal recommendations.

A total of six proposals of the 115 might affect military health care. Other options include increasing health care cost sharing for family members of military personnel on active duty (Option 95); increasing health care cost sharing for military retirees under age 65 (Option 97); and copayments and changes to enrollment for medical care provided by the Veterans Affairs Hospitals for enrollees without a service-connected disability (Options 28, 29 and 98)

And:

ROA would like to thank those members who brought this report to our attention. The Reserve Officers Association is concerned with legislation that might affect the military health readiness, and deny earned health benefits and will continue to track this issue. ROA leadership has been in discussions with other military and veteran associations and the consensus is that currently there is no serious risk. At this point there are no fires needing to be put out.

The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) in “As I See It — Budget ‘Options’ Stir Concerns,” also puts the CBO report in perspective:

First things first: It’s important to understand that this book of options is nothing new. CBO puts out similar lists of options at the start of every Congress, and previous option books have included these or similar proposals. Some of the cuts were, in fact, put in the Bush administration’s annual budgets, but they were rebuffed by Congress every year.

Second, these are “options” put forth by CBO, not “recommendations.” In many cases, the papers acknowledge there are downsides to the proposals, such as the likelihood that higher fees will deter beneficiaries from seeking needed care.

And

It’s a complete unknown at this point what the new President might put in his first budget proposal to Congress – expected sometime this spring. We’ve seen no indication at this point that the new Administration will share the perspective of the last one that more costs ought to be shifted to DoD and VA beneficiaries.

But warns:

But there’s certainly no guarantee the new budget won’t include any such proposals.

What we are confident of is, whether or not this year’s budget proposes any of these or other benefit cutbacks, it’s only a matter of time before the attacks will come again.

For more of the MOAA report, please go here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist