AFSA HQ Newsletter – February 2nd

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS 

TRICARE Fee Increases

In last Friday’s AFSA Alert we highlighted several proposals DoD says will be included in the Presidents FY 2013 Budget Proposal to Congress later this month.   Defense Secretary Leon Panetta released preliminary information on January 26 which includes a number of changes (increases) in TRICARE premiums and fees. 

To quickly recap, the Administration plans to raise TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for retirees under age 65 in the TRICARE program using a tiered approach based on retired pay; establish a new enrollment fee for TRICARE for Life, again using a tiered approach; and raise pharmacy copays in a manner that increases incentives for use of generics and the Mail Order Pharmacy. 

Needless to say, word of these proposals upset many of you and some asked AFSA for more details.  We don’t have any—and won’t until the President submits his formal proposal to Congress on or about February 13, which is a week later than required by law.  Past recommendations provide clues to what the Administration is planning.  Reports by the Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare in 2007, the Pentagon’s 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation in 2008 and Presidents Deficit Reduction Commission in 2010 all called for higher fees based on income which would increase annual TRICARE Prime premiums nearly six-fold for many users.  All three reports suggested annual fees for TRICARE Standard and TRICARE for Life, as well as increases in pharmacy copays. The President’s $4.4 trillion deficit-reduction plan released in August 2011 proposed extremely large increases in TRICARE pharmacy co-pays (doubling or tripling them), and a $200 enrollment fee for those using Tricare for Life.  The TFL fee would climb to $295 the following year and then be indexed to a rate of healthcare inflation in future years.

Secretary Panetta’s announcement that the Administration will seek higher fees serves as a warning shot for a fight that will begin once the President submits his official FY 2013 budget proposal.  Congress must still agree to whatever they propose, and their approval or disapproval of the fee changes won’t likely be known for quite some time.  AFSA will be working to affect their decision, and call upon our members at appropriate times to voice their opposition to these efforts which serve as a disincentive for career military service and shift the cost of earned healthcare onto the backs of retirees and their families.  Today, our CEO met with Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) to lay the groundwork for the battle ahead.  Jones is the author of H.R. 1092, the Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act.  On Monday, the CEO met with Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) to discuss the same issue and ensuing discussions in the Senate.  Senator Begich is on both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. 

SPECIAL NOTE:  On 25 January 2012, a letter was sent to each member of the House Armed Services Committee concerning defense spending and recommendations concerning compensation, TRICARE enrollment and deductible fees increases for retirees, and Pharmacy co-pays.  All TMC member associations received a copy of that communiqué that was signed by each DOD service chief (4-star) and their respective senior enlisted (i.e., USACSM, CMSAF, USMCSGM, MCPON, NGBCMS, MCPOCG).      

“Doc Fix” Update

Last December, Congress approved legislation temporarily postponing a 27.4 percent reduction in Medicare and TRICARE reimbursement rates.  The provision was part of a payroll tax-cut package due to expire at the end of this month. 

This week, lawmakers were working on a package (H.R. 3630) which would extend the current policy through the rest of this year.  Members in both parties agree continuing current reimbursement rates are necessary to ensure patients access to quality care.  Though the central issue is resolved—that an extension is necessary—funding H.R. 3630 in a manner House and Senate Members can agree on won’t come easily.  Many lawmakers do not want to raise taxes or add to the deficit with this bill so the costs must come through savings in other government programs. 

Where the money comes and the sheer cost of a permanent fix has been major stumbling points in the past.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of simply freezing rates at their current level through 2022 is $316 billion—up from a $290 billion price tag calculated last year.  Recently, lawmakers seem open to using projected war savings as a way to pay for a permanent fix.  Yesterday, CBO published a budget and economic outlook report indicating there is more than enough in projected war savings to pay for a repeal of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.  The SGR is the formula used to set payment rates for physicians who treat TRICARE and Medicare patients.  We surmise the release of this report isn’t coincidental, and won’t be surprised if Congress taps into some of these funds for an agreement we hope they will reach prior to the February 29 deadline. 

Access to quality care is the number one healthcare problem faced by military members and those who serve shouldn’t have to worry whether a doctor will see them or their sick family members because of these rate cuts.  We address this concern in each of our visits with Members of Congress and will continue to do so until a new plan is in place.  Members can support our efforts by contacting their elected officials in Washington and urge them to pass legislation that delays the March 1 cuts, or better yet, fixes the problem altogether.

BRAC

Last Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated the President will also request another round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) in order to reduce excess infrastructure.  Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz recently said a case could be made for an Air Force BRAC since the service did not close any large installations in the last round of base closures.  We assume future base closures would be tied to the type of aircraft DoD decides to divest which right now includes many A-10s, 27 C-5s, 65 C-130s, 28 C-27s, and the Global Hawk program. 

What do you think?  Should more Air Force Bases be closed?  At the same time, let us know your thoughts on the prospect of TRICARE premiums rising.  AFSA has a full slate of Hill visits scheduled over the next three weeks and your opinions will be helpful in our discussions with congressional members.  You can forward your comments to us by clicking on the link at the end of this issue of On Call. 

VETERANS NEWS 

National Salute to Veteran Patients

The National Salute to Veteran Patients program encourages all Americans to visit and volunteer at VA medical centers and to send letters of thanks or valentines to those who have protected our nation.   This year’s national salute is February 12-18.   Last year, more than 328,000 valentines were received at VA medical centers, and 21,330 people visited nearly 70,000 veteran patients.   You should also consider visiting patients and their families in the Fisher House on during this time.   For more information regarding the National Salute to Veteran Patients and volunteer opportunities at a local VA medical center, visit the VA Voluntary Service webpage

Mental Health Care

Getting help for a mental health problem should not be difficult or intimidating. VA offers a variety of tools and resources to help Veterans cope with their problems.   The best place to start is the VA Mental Health web page. Take some time to visit the site. 

3 Good Questions for Your Health

Every time you talk with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, use the “Ask Me 3 questions” to better understand your health. 

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this? 

When to Ask these Questions:

  1. When you see your doctor, nurse or pharmacist
  2. When you prepare for a medical test or procedure
  3. When you get your medication.

HEALTHCARE 

MHS Conference

Throughout the week, AFSA representatives have been attending the Annual Military Health System (MHS) Conference here in the National Capitol Region.  We have been participating in workshops and attending plenary sessions which are designed to give attendees a better understanding of the MHS system.  At the same time, we have had the opportunity to meet with many of the healthcare contractors who provide services to our members.  These interactions afford AFSA the opportunity to air concerns with key programs like TRICARE for Life and the various dental programs, and receive information on changes of interest and benefit to our members. 

Got Your Flu Shot?

Getting a flu vaccine is easy and inexpensive for TRICARE beneficiaries.  You may be able to get your flu vaccine for free from any military medical clinic or hospital, or you may choose to get it at one of 50,000 participating TRICARE retail network pharmacies. Use Express Scripts’ pharmacy locator to find one near you or call 1 (877) 363-1303. 

AFSA MEMBER BENEFITS 

Share your AFSA pride! 

AFSA has a wide range of very reasonably priced caps, belt buckles, commemorative coins, decals, medals, pins, plaques, awards and certificates available 24/7 on our website

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. 

WORTH REPEATING 

When recently asked of General Gary North, PACAF Commander, “what are your thoughts about chiefs and what are your overall expectations from chiefs”, his reply included “Chiefs are obstacle removers.” 

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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