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Summary of Issues
At Issue 1. we see GOVERNMENT SLASHES MILITARY RETIREMENT. Major changes coming to system. Despite a veto threat from the White House over funding priorities, Congress moves forward with a controversial defense bill. (See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)
At Issue 2. we see HOW DID YOUR LEGISLATORS SCORE? Want to know where your legislators stand on six key MOAA issues?. (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)
At Issue 3. we see TRICARE PHARMACY CHANGES COMING. New rules begin this week. How you get your prescriptions is about to change. (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF)
Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference
FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –
don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources
October 2, 2015
House and Senate conferees finally agreed to move forward with an annual defense bill, one with a lower than expected pay raise and significant changes to military pay and benefits.
The defense bill capped the active duty pay raise at 1.3 percent. This marks a third consecutive year of pay caps, and continues to undo a decade of work by Congress to eliminate a 13.5 percent wage gap between military and private sector pay.
Pay caps add up. An active duty O-3 with 10 years of service has now lost over $1,800 since pay caps started.
The bill also includes major changes to military retirement. Beginning in 2018, the new system will cut military retirement by 20 percent, and decrease the disability retirement calculation in order to provide a five percent government match to federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts held by military members.
The intent of the plan is to provide a portable retirement benefit to troops exiting service prior to serving a full career. However, servicemembers are already eligible to use TSP, albeit without a government contribution.
MOAA has supported government matching of personal Thrift Savings Plan accounts, but it should not come at the expense of cutting military retirement, or cutting the payments to medically retired service men and women.
The new retirement plan provides an automatic one percent government contribution to TSP accounts, with an additional match of up to four percent of a servicemember’s contribution. Earlier proposals stopped government contributions after 20 years of service. Lawmakers compromised and agreed to extend government matching up to 26 years of service.
MOAA will continue to advocate for government matching for a full career.
The new plan also allows for a lump sum distribution of a portion of retired pay.
Current servicemembers and retirees will be grandfathered into the current retirement system. Servicemembers with less than 12 years of service will have the option to opt-in to the new program.
Slashing military retirement by 20 percent and providing a ‘401k-style’ benefit will erode career retention and provide a greater incentive for members to leave service early. Because the policy funds the new vesting provisions by imposing major cutbacks in benefits for those staying for a career, MOAA has great concerns about the impact on long-term readiness and retention.
Congress also repealed the final section of a complicated COLA-reducing law for future military retirees. Future retirees were originally subject to a one-percentage point reduction in annual retirement COLA until age 62. At age 62, military retired pay would be recalculated and receive full COLA increases.
MOAA was instrumental in repealing the COLA change, with members sending 300,000 messages to Capitol Hill in just a few months.
MOAA is grateful Congress rejected proposals to means-test annual TRICARE fees and implement new enrollment fees for TRICARE For Life beneficiaries, at least for now.
Congress also rejected proposals to consolidate TRICARE Prime and Standard. Under those proposals, beneficiaries would have been subject to the enrollment fees of TRICARE Standard without the guaranteed access of TRICARE Prime. In essence, beneficiaries would be paying more for less.
Although lawmakers rejected major changes to TRICARE this year, they made no bones about the fact that now that they’ve overhauled military retirement, their next focus will be on health care. In report language, lawmakers warned, “… that comprehensive reform of the military health care system is essential” and “all elements of the current system must be re-evaluated, and that increases to fees and copays will be a necessary part of such a comprehensive reform effort.”
One of the most contentious issues in the defense bill was the future of prescription copays. The administration’s original budget called for 10 years of TRICARE pharmacy increases.
Senate lawmakers agreed, and proposed increases of 25 to 125 percent.
Proposals to increase prescription copays fail to take into account that TRICARE beneficiaries now pay 145 percent more since 2011, and that pharmacy copays are already indexed to annual COLAs.
Fortunately, House conferees prevailed over the Senate, but had to concede to a one-year increase in prescription drug prices.
The defense bill also included language to correct an inequity for military survivors. The bill authorizes Survivor Benefit Plan coverage for a spouse in the event a former spouse predeceases the servicemember.
Original budget proposals called for both a consolidation of the commissary and exchange systems and a dramatic cut in commissary funding.
Those plans were thwarted thanks largely to the work of Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.). They delayed any privatization efforts until further cost saving studies on the proposal are conducted. Sen. Mikulski also led the effort to restore over $300 million in commissary funding.
The commissary budget only decreased slightly because of Mikulski’s efforts. Patrons would have seen a reduction in the number of days open and operating hours.
The defense bill fell short on major MOAA-supported issues. The bill did not include provisions to:
- End the “widow’s tax” for military survivors
- Expand concurrent receipt for disabled retirees
- Establish that career reservists with no active duty service are deemed veterans of the armed forces
“We are disappointed in the final defense bill and its adverse effect on military families,” says MOAA President Vice Adm. Norbert R. Ryan Jr., USN (Ret). “We must reverse this trend of eroding pay and benefits because we’re sending the wrong signal to the troops at the wrong time.”
With the political horizon looking the way it is, MOAA’s membership will be even more important next year to protect hard-earned benefits in service to the nation.
Issue 2. HOW DID YOUR LEGISLATORS SCORE?
Where Do Your Legislators Stand?
The summary below shows the positions of your senators and representative on a number of key issues important to MOAA members. This summary reflects legislators’ status as cosponsors of MOAA-supported bills rather than actual votes on the issues, except as noted in the explanations below.
Senators are listed first, with Representatives listed below the Senators by state.
“ + ” means the legislator has sponsored or cosponsored one of the associated bills listed below. “ – ” means the legislator has not cosponsored any of the relevant bills.
Note 1: Your legislator identification is based on your mailing address in your MOAA membership record unless you have given MOAA a separate voting address.
Note 2: Many congressional/committee leaders have a policy against cosponsoring bills on issues within their purview.
Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) legislation would reduce or end the deduction of VA survivor benefits from SBP annuities or increase the amounts payable to survivors subject to deduction. A “+” indicates Senate cosponsorship of S. 979 (Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.) or House cosponsorship of H.R. 1594 (Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.).
Concurrent Receipt legislation would reduce or eliminate the deduction of VA disability compensation from military retired pay. A “+” indicates Senate cosponsorship of S. 271 (Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.) or House cosponsorship of H.R. 303 (Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.) or H.R. 333 (Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.).
Caregiver Expansion legislation would allow veterans of all eras eligible for the full range of caregiver support services through the VA. A “+” indicates Senate cosponsorship of S. 1085 (Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.), or House cosponsorship of H.R. 1969 (Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.).
Vet Status legislation would grant veteran status to members of the Reserve Components who served a career of 20 years or more and are military retirees, but who through no fault of their own are not recognized by our government as “veterans.” A “+” indicates Senate cosponsorship of S. 743 (Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.), or House cosponsorship of H.R. 1384 (Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.).
Women Veterans VA Access legislation would improve services and standards for women veterans using the VA. A “+” indicates Senate cosponsorship of S. 471 (Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.) or House cosponsorship of H.R. 1356 (Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.).
Spouse Employment legislation would provide a tax credit to military spouses who must pursue new licensing or certification in a different state due to their servicemember’s military ordered relocation. A “+” indicates Senate cosponsorshi
Want to know where your legislators stand on six key MOAA issues?
Get your personalized results in the October edition of Military Officer (And/or Click on HOW DID YOUR LEGISLATORS SCORE? here or above to see the details. GF)
Issue 3. TRICARE PHARMACY CHANGES COMING
October 2, 2015
Starting Oct. 1, most TRICARE beneficiaries are required to fill their long-term prescriptions via mail-order or through military treatment facility (MTF) pharmacies.
What began as a pilot program for TRICARE For Life (TFL) beneficiaries in 2013, a provision in last year’s defense bill expanded the mail-order program to all TRICARE beneficiaries. However, unlike the pilot program, beneficiaries will not have the option to opt-out of the program after one year.
Maintenance medications are used to treat long-term conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
According to the Defense Health Agency, moving TFL beneficiaries into the mail-order program helped result in almost 80 percent of the cost savings the agency claims.
“The overwhelming majority of people using mail-order give the program positive reviews for convenience and cost-savings,” said Capt. Kathy Beasley, USN (Ret), Deputy Director of Government Relations at MOAA. “While it unfortunately restricts some choice for beneficiaries, this is one of the few programs that actually saves both the user and the government money.”
Using mail-order for a 90 day supply of medication saves 66 percent from what retail locations charge.
In previous MOAA surveys, almost 97 percent of respondents gave the mail-order program favorable ratings.
By now, most TRICARE beneficiaries should have received notices about switching maintenance medications into the mail-order system.
Three categories of beneficiaries are exempt from the new requirements:
- Beneficiaries currently serving on active duty
- Beneficiaries with other health insurance (OHI) that provide drug coverage; and
- Beneficiaries living overseas
Beneficiaries using maintenance medications need to enroll in the mail-order system or obtain medications through MTF pharmacies.
If you are unsure if your prescriptions are affected, you can call the number provided by Express Scripts: 1-877-882-3335.
For more information on the TRICARE Mail Order Program, check out MOAA’s Frequently Asked Questions.
(Click on MOAA’s Frequently Asked Questions. here or above for more information GF)
That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!