February 2, 2007

The Defense Department is again proposing increases in Tricare enrollment fees and copays for military retirees under 65 and their dependents. This year, DoD officials hope to enlist the aid of the Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare. Although this new panel was created by Congress, its members were appointed by the Defense officials pushing for the increases. Surprisingly, the task force member appointed to represent military organizations, retired Army Reserve Major Gen. Robert W. Smith III, has declared retiree health care a "benefit" rather than an "entitlement." Theoretically, entitlements should not be changed, but benefits can. Smith is the former president of the Reserve Officers Association. The DoD plan is expected to mirror last year’s, with a triple-tiered fee schedule tied to rank, and stepped increases for two years, followed by a tie to federal civilian health care premiums.

February 2, 2007

In a move to block Defense Department plans to impose huge increases in Tricare fees and copays for military retirees under 65, Representatives Chet Edwards, D., Texas, and Walter Jones, R., N.C., have introduced the Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act (H.R. 579). It would transfer the right to levy Tricare fees from DoD to Congress. It also would stipulate that retired military health fees should not be raised more in any year than the retirees’ military compensation. Support by military organizations for last year’s counterpart to H.R. 579 was instrumental in blocking the proposed increases. In addition, last year was an election year. 

February 2, 2007

More than a million visually impaired veterans will receive enhanced health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under a reorganization of VA's vision rehabilitation services, said VA secretary Jim Nicholson. VA will allocate $40 million during the next three years to establish a comprehensive nationwide rehabilitation system for veterans and active duty personnel with visual impairments. The system will expand outpatient services throughout the agency’s 1,400 health care locations. Each of VA's 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) will implement the eye care plan for veterans with visual impairments from 20/70 to total blindness. All VA clinics will offer basic services, while every network will provide intermediate and advanced low-vision services. VA's 10 existing inpatient blind rehabilitation centers will continue to provide the department's most intensive eye care programs, but each VISN now will also provide outpatient-based blind rehabilitation care.


February 6, 2007


While President Bush’s fiscal year 2008 budget request would come close to providing adequate funding for veterans health care and other programs, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) sees a number of flaws and shortcomings in the proposal that could adversely affect sick and disabled veterans.
The President’s budget proposes $34.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system and relies on $2.3 billion in collections. The budget plan also would increase prescription co-payments from $8 to $15 and impose a three-tiered annual enrollment fee of $250, $500 or $750 for some veterans, depending on family income. But instead of going directly to the VA, those fees would be paid to the U.S. Treasury, where they conceivably could be siphoned off for other purposes. 
The DAV and other veterans service organizations that co-author The Independent Budget each year have recommended nearly $44.3 billion in discretionary spending for the VA, with $36.8 billion of that for veterans health care. They urge Congress to reject proposed higher pharmacy co-payments and the burdensome enrollment fees and fully fund veterans health care through direct appropriations.
“The President’s co-payment and enrollment fee proposals are deliberately designed to force thousands of veterans out of the VA health care system,” said DAV National Commander Bradley S. Barton.
“Because of chronic funding shortfalls, many veterans wait longer for medical appointments, VA hospitals are prevented from hiring additional nurses and other health care professionals to meet the growing demand for services and are forced to ration care,” said Commander Barton.
“And no matter how generously the administration believes it is funding veterans programs, it cannot guarantee the VA receives its new budget by the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1,” he added.
Another major area of concern is that while the President’s budget contains a commitment to improving the timeliness of veterans benefits claims, it does not address the adverse impact of recently passed legislation that expands attorney involvement in the process. The VA has said it will have to create a whole new bureaucracy to perform the additional accreditation and attorney fee oversight responsibilities.
With a backlog of more than 600,000 pending benefits claims and processing times averaging six months for initial claims and more than two years for appeals, the attorney fees law would likely add to the VA’s woes, causing further delays and complicating an already overburdened system.
The 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit organization founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932, represents this nation’s disabled veterans. It is dedicated to a single purpose: building better lives for our nation’s disabled veterans and their families. 

February 16, 2007

The section of the administration's fiscal 2008 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs again targets veterans who have 
little or no VA disability rating. The proposal would establish an annual enrollment fee based on means testing for veterans 
enrolled in Priority groups 7 and 8. The fee for annual incomes from $50,000 to $74,999 would be $250. For incomes from $75,000 to $99,999 enrollment cost would double to $500. And veterans with incomes of $100,000 or more would pay $750. The budget also would almost double prescription drug co-pays from $8 to $15. Veterans organizations are opposed to such hikes in fees and drug co-pays on grounds that military beneficiaries have already paid their dues by their service and sacrifice for their country. Congress has rejected proposals to bump up VA fees in the past, and the vets' organizations are lobbying for similar action this year. 

February 16, 2007

Last year Congress blocked until Sept. 30 of this year the Defense Department's plan to impose huge annual layers of Tricare fees on military retirees under age 65. To counter plans by DoD to institute two tiers of increases at once inOctober, Representatives Chet Edwards, D-Texas, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., have introduced H.R. 579. Their Military Retirees' Healthcare Protection Act would place control of the fees in congressional hands for four key categories:enrollment fees for retired members and survivors in Tricare Prime; enrollment fees for the Tricare Reserve Select program; pharmacy co-payments and co-payments for inpatient care.


February 16, 2007

Legislation to allow federal and military retirees to pay their health insurance premiums with pre-tax compensation was introduced today by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (COGR) and 28 original bipartisan cosponsors, including Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), COGR Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), Subcommittee on Federal Workforce Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL), Reps. Jon Porter (R-NV) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the entire Washington, D.C. metropolitan area delegation and 19 members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is the panel with jurisdiction over the bill.[1]
The Davis bill (H.R. 1110) would amend the tax code to allow Federal civilian and military retirees - as well as active duty military employees - to pay their health insurance premiums on a pre-tax basis, as active federal civilian employees can already do.

“On behalf of our nation’s 2.3 million federal annuitants, I am happy to give the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association’s (NARFE) strongest endorsement to the bill introduced today by our good friend, Congressman Tom Davis, that would help retirees and survivors living on fixed incomes to bear the burden of high health insurance costs,” NARFE President Margaret Baptiste said.

H.R. 1110 is supported by the Military Coalition -- a group of 35 military, veterans and uniformed services organizations -- and most organizations which represent federal and postal workers and annuitants.

Under this legislation, the amount retirees pay for their share of health insurance premiums would be subtracted from the amount of their income reported to the Internal Revenue Service. The income tax paid by retirees would be lower because their taxable income would be lower. Federal and military retirees would not be required to take any further action under this legislation since their reported income would automatically result in lower income tax.

Baptiste said that, “the reasons why this bill should become law are clear. Since 1998, we have had several years of double digit increases in Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) premiums, while cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for federal civilian and military retirees have increased by an average of just over 2 percent. In response, this ‘premium conversion’ benefit was granted to executive branch employees in October 2000 and to legislative branch workers in January 2001. While we’re glad that our colleagues who are still working receive this relief, we were disappointed that annuitants were left out since the tax code is unclear on whether we may participate. As a matter of equity, federal annuitants must receive this same relief.”

“More than just retirees should care about this legislation,” said Baptiste, “Imagine the shock of a newly retired federal employee when she receives her first annuity check and learns that the federal government no long uses pre-tax compensation to pay her share of health insurance premiums,” Baptiste said. “That average annual tax savings of $820 she received when working ended when she retired from the government – just when it’s need the most.”

“I pledge the full advocacy efforts of NARFE behind this legislation,” the NARFE President concluded.