AFSA HQ Newsletter – January 4th

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS 

Short-term “Doc Fix”

Less than 48 hours before Christmas, lawmakers agreed to a two-month plan that prevented higher tax rates, delayed a 27 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare and TRICARE patients (“Doc Fix”), and extended unemployment insurance programs.  The agreement lasts through February and efforts to come up with a longer-term agreement will likely capture much of Congress’ attention when it returns later this month.  Although both chambers have appointed members to a conference committee charged with hammering out a long-term deal, there is no reason to believe these negotiations will be any easier than those seen in recent months, primarily because neither party can agree on how to pay for the measure.  We will keep an eye on their progress and provide updates as information becomes available. 

FY 2012 NDAA Now Law

President Obama has signed into law, H.R. 1540, the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  As we have reported, the bill contains several important provisions, among them, authorization for a 1.6 percent military pay raise and extension of many special pays and bonuses.  The President attached to the bill a not-oft-used signing statement that expresses his concerns with certain provisions contained within the measure.   “The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” the President said.   “In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists…   Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people.”   As regular readers of On Call know, the terrorist custody issue proved to be extremely controversial in 2011, impeding the NDAA’s passage for months.  Lawmakers reworded and “tweaked” that language several times in order to gain the approval of the President and many lawmakers.

AFSA Ready for 2012

Over the past few weeks AFSA has been meeting with congressional members and Hill staffers as we formulate legislative strategies for the second session of the 112th Congress.  Game plans are being developed for key legislative goals like protecting enlisted pay and compensation programs (including TRICARE), making further progress on concurrent receipt, repealing the SBP/DIC offset, and advancing a number of Guard and Reserve retirement   and compensation issues.  DoD officials are finalizing their budget plans for FY 2013.   Their proposal will be part of the President’s budget submission expected to be given to Congress in early February.  Early indicators suggest they may be asking Congress to support higher TRICARE fees and changes with military pay and compensation programs.   Because such moves would most directly affect enlisted Airmen, AFSA will vigorously oppose either effort.  We will report details as soon as DoD budget plans are formally published. 

VETERANS NEWS 

Rules Liberalized for Veterans with Undiagnosed Illnesses

Veterans of the Gulf War with undiagnosed illnesses have an additional five years to qualify for VA disability benefits.   The eligibility window has been extended to December 31, 2016.   See this VA announcement for more information. 

One Stop Shop for GI Bill Resources

VA’s GI Bill Page can help you apply for education benefits; answer frequently asked questions and even help you decide on the best school that suits your needs.   The Post-9/11 GI Bill Facebook Page can help you keep up to date with that important education benefit as well. 

VA Announces Launch of Facebook Pages for all 152 Medical Centers

In late December the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it has established Facebook pages for all of its 152 medical centers.  The process that began with a single Veterans Health Administration Facebook page in 2008 has now produced over 150 Facebook pages, 64 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr page, and the VAntage Point blog.  Additionally, in June 2011, VA produced a Department-wide social media policy that provides guidelines for communicating with Veterans online.  The overarching strategy is designed to help break down long-perceived barriers between the Department and its stakeholders.  VA currently has over 345,000 combined Facebook subscribers (or, “fans”).  The Department’s main Facebook page has over 154,000 fans and its medical centers have a combined subscribership of over 69,000.  The Department plans to continue expanding its Facebook presence while also focusing on bringing Twitter to every VA medical center as well.  A directory of All VA Social Media Sites can be found here and a separate VA Facebook Page Directory, here 

HEALTHCARE

Walgreens No Longer a TRICARE Pharmacy Network Provider

The current contract between Express Scripts, Inc. and the Walgreens pharmacy chain expired on December 31, 2011.  As a result, Walgreens is NO LONGER a TRICARE Pharmacy Network Provider.  The TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) assures AFSA that most beneficiaries will have access to another network pharmacy very close to home as the contract with Express Scripts requires high access standards.  On Tuesday, TMA published a press release regarding the change in Walgreens’ status.  Due to the high level of interest on this issue and the potential impact on our members, it appears in its entirety below. 

TRICARE Beneficiaries Reassured of Robust Pharmacy Service

TRICARE Management Activity – The expiration of the retail pharmacy contract between Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI) and the Walgreens pharmacy chain means Walgreens is no longer a TRICARE pharmacy network provider as of January 1, 2012. 

“The majority of beneficiaries have access to another network pharmacy very close to home as our pharmacy contract requires ESI to maintain high access standards,” said Rear Adm. Thomas McGinnis, chief of the TRICARE Pharmaceutical Operations Directorate.  “There are still 56,000 network pharmacies nationwide – easily meeting or exceeding our access requirements.” 

In addition to 56,000 network pharmacies, TRICARE beneficiaries have other pharmacy options including military pharmacies at no cost and convenient TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery.  Generic medications are available at no cost through Home Delivery. 

Beneficiaries who use non-network pharmacies, including Walgreens, pay full prescription costs upfront and submit their own claims for reimbursement. Reimbursement will occur only after the non-network deductible is met.  Out-of-network costs include a 50 percent point-of-service cost share for TRICARE Prime, after deductibles are met.  All other non-active duty TRICARE beneficiaries pay the greater of a $12 copay or 20 percent of the total cost for formulary medications and the greater of $25 or 20 percent of the total cost for non-formulary medications, after deductibles are met.  For more on pharmacy costs, visit this TRICARE Prescription Page (www.tricare.mil/pharmacycosts). 

TRICARE beneficiaries changing from Walgreens pharmacy can simply take their current prescription bottle to their new network pharmacy to have the prescription transferred.  To find a nearby network pharmacy, use the “find a pharmacy” feature on the Express Scripts Website (www.express-scripts.com/tricare).  Beneficiaries who want help finding a pharmacy, changing their medications to Home Delivery or who have other questions can contact Express Scripts at 1-877-885-6313. 

The issues between ESI and Walgreens are not specific to TRICARE.  Other employer-sponsored and some Medicare Part D pharmacy plans are also affected.  Beneficiaries with questions and concerns about this issue can visit this page (www.tricare.mil/walgreens) for more information. 

  “We are committed to ensuring all our pharmacy beneficiaries are aware of the many options that TRICARE makes available to them,” said Brig. Gen. Bryan Gamble, TRICARE Deputy Director. “By now, all of our beneficiaries who use Walgreens to fill prescriptions should have been contacted to advise them of their pharmacy options and to take action to ensure their pharmacy benefit remains uninterrupted.  The health of our Service members, retirees and their families remains my number one priority.” 

In addition to the letters already mailed to each beneficiary who uses Walgreens, ESI has contacted many beneficiaries by telephone and followed up with reminder letters over the last few months of 2011.  Beneficiaries taking medications to treat hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, and some rheumatoid arthritis and cancer drugs have also been contacted.  TRICARE pharmacy information and updates can be found at www.tricare.mil/pharmacy

AFSA MEMBER BENEFITS 

INSURANCE: PROPERTY & CASUALTY

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Scholarships for Air Force Enlisted Members Dependent Children and Air Force Sergeants Association Auxiliary

The Air Force Sergeants Association (AFSA) and the Airmen Memorial Foundation (AMF) joined together to conduct a scholarship program to financially assist the undergraduate studies of eligible, dependent children of the Total Air Force which includes Air Force Active Duty (AFAD), Air National Guard (ANG) , and Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) enlisted members in active duty, retired, or veteran status. Applications are screened and verified for eligibility prior to submission to the respective selection committee(s). The AFSA and AFSA International Auxiliary programs have membership requirements, but there are no association membership requirements for the AMF or CMSAF programs.

Applications for the upcoming academic year will be available between January 1 and March 31.   Completed application packages with all required documents can be sent to AFSA Headquarters between January 1 and March 3.  Incomplete packages or packages received after March 31 are ineligible for consideration. 

THINKING AFSA 

AFSA Seeks Input for 2012-2013 Legislative Platform

AFSA continues to seek your proposals for possible inclusion in AFSA’s 2012-2013 Legislative Platform.  Recommendations should be written in point paper format and submitted through the local chapter to the Division President for coordination. Division Presidents will compile issues received from their chapters and forward them to the Directorate of Military and Government Relations (M&G) for further evaluation. 

Proposals must be received by Military and Government Relations and (cc:)Trustee Nelson (Legislative Committee Chairman) NLT January 15, 2012, to ensure there is sufficient time to research each issue.  Items received by this time will be considered by the AFSA Legislative Committee in the spring of 2012 when it meets to prepare a new draft platform for the AFSA International Executive Committee. 

WORTH REPEATING 

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.   For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” 

– Margaret Mead – 

We want to hear your thoughts and opinions.  Complete the sentence below!  What’s your top 10 list for AFSA?  Go ahead.  Don’t be bashful.  Send it.

“I THINK AFSA SHOULD __________.”

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