*Legislative Update 28 August 2015: TRICARE Fees Go Up in October

We have 1 Action Item today at Issue 1 below

 

 

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see TRICARE FEES GO UP IN OCTOBEREnrollment rates increase. How much more will you pay?

.  (See Issue 1 below to send messages to your Legislators. GF) 

At Issue 2. we see CLAIMS BACKLOG DROPSThankfully, what goes up must come down. VA announces a major milestone in reducing the backlog of claims. (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 3. we see DFAS EMAIL SCAM ALERTScam targets DFAS after hacking scandal. Keep your personal identification information safe..  (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

 

ISSUES

 

Issue 1. TRICARE FEES GO UP IN OCTOBER

August 28, 2015

TRICARE beneficiaries will see an increase in health care fees starting in October.

Beginning Oct 1, TRICARE Prime enrollment fees will be $565 for a family and $282 for a single person.

The increases will affect military families and retirees under age 65.

Increases to TRICARE enrollment fees are based on the annual cost of living adjustment for retired military pay.

Surviving family members of sponsors who died on active duty, and medically retired servicemembers and their family members, are exempt from the fee increases.

Since 2011, beneficiaries have seen TRICARE Prime enrollment fees increase by 23 percent, double the rate of inflation over the same period. Pharmacy copays vary by class, but over the same time span, beneficiaries have seen a 60 percent increase in medication costs.

After freezing annual TRICARE fees for 13 consecutive years, defense planners tried for several years to play catch up by proposing rate increases up to 300 and 400 percent over a five year period. MOAA argued that such a dramatic spike in fees could financially devastate retired military families.

In an attempt to prevent disproportionate increases, MOAA successfully convinced Congress to index TRICARE Prime enrollment fees to COLA versus health care inflation in the FY12 defense bill. In the FY14 defense bill, MOAA secured another legislative win by getting Congress to tie pharmacy fee increases to COLA as well.

However, when it comes to pharmacy fees, Congress hasn’t been able to follow its own law. In addition to last year’s disproportionate pharmacy fee increase above inflation, Congress is now considering increasing pharmacy fees by 66 to 75 percent over the next decade.

“Beneficiaries are paying enough,” said Capt. Kathy Beasley, USN (Ret), MOAA’s Deputy Director for Government Relations. “Congress needs to look at other ways to control health care costs before trying to pass the buck to military families.”

Take Action. Send your elected officials a  MOAA-suggested message  asking them to prevent steep pharmacy fee increases in this year’s defense bill.

(Click on MOAA-suggested message here or above or go to Here is the Processat the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

 

Issue 2. CLAIMS BACKLOG DROPS

August 28, 2015

A historic milestone was reached this week with the VA’s announcement that initial claims for veterans’ disabilities and survivor benefits dropped to 98,535. This is an 84% reduction from the high water mark of 611,000 claims in the pipeline in March 2013.

Almost five years ago, former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that the VA would eliminate the backlog of initial claims that were waiting for more than 125 days for a decision, by the end of 2015. Now, the VA appears to be in reach of that goal.

According to the VA, the quality of the decisions remains high as the numbers have dropped. The accuracy of disability decisions has climbed steadily from 83% in 2011 to 91% today. The accuracy of “individual medical issues” within a claim is now at 96%. Rated against eight distinct “error categories” – such as correct effective date, correct decision related to military service, etc. – VA arrives at the right decision 98% of the time.

MOAA commends VA Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison Hickey, for building the transformation strategy that led to these encouraging results. In many appearances before Congress, Hickey referred to upgrades in “people, process and technology” as at the heart of her strategy.

Now, almost all claims are managed and decided on a digital platform, eliminating cumbersome paper files. Mandatory overtime for many claims workers has been the practice in recent years. Hickey’s office also negotiated an arrangement with the Pentagon to certify the completeness of medical records for separating and retiring servicemembers and speeding their delivery electronically to decision makers.

Along the way, the VA welcomed the collaboration of veteran and military service organizations, including MOAA, to improve the process further. Nearly half of all claims made to VA and 90% of claims filed by MOAA are Fully Developed Claims, which VA has credited with expediting decisions on initial claims.

Are we there, yet?  Not at all. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) just announced that it was suspending mandatory overtime for adjudicators. It remains to be seen if the progress achieved to date can be sustained with reduced time devoted to the backlog. The VA is banking on its electronic platform, the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), to support high quality production, even as the number and complexity of veterans’ claims continues to rise.

Moreover, the VA and Congress need to step up on the thorny problem of reducing the backlog of appealed claims that go through a complex process. More often than not, the Board of Veterans Appeals sends these claims back to a VA regional office for further work.

Appealed claims take on average over three years to resolve. A number of studies demonstrate that in the end, veterans win much more often on appeal than the government, indicating that the process is flawed. Veterans are getting the wrong decision out of the gate.

Other challenges include slower decisions for National Guard and Reserve veterans who served on active duty, as well as comparably lower ratings on their claims for the same conditions filed by their active duty counterparts. This may be the result of incomplete documentation of service-related conditions at separation, and other factors. Women veterans also tend to receive lower ratings than their male counterparts for similar conditions.

Although there are still areas where improvement is needed, there is clear cause to celebrate significant progress in battling the backlog of claims that has bedeviled the VA for too long. MOAA will continue to work with our VSO partners, Congress, and the VA to ensure that the gains made so far lead to further progress for our nation’s service men and women who have “borne the battle.”

Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Bob Norton, USA (Ret) said, “We feel very confident that Under Secretary Hickey will continue to drive progress on the backlog going forward, including reductions in appealed and non-rating claims.

Issue 3. DFAS EMAIL SCAM ALERT

August 28, 2015

Email scams are targeting military servicemembers, retirees, and their families by posing as the Defense and Finance Accounting Service (DFAS).

The most recent scam looks like a “SmartDoc” email with the subject line “myPay IMPORTANT SECURITY UPDATE,” and appears to come from a DFAS-SmartDocs email address. The links provided in the emails direct the user to a malicious website that requests personal information.

Several attentive MOAA members provided an example of an email they recently received:

Dear Account Holder,

It has come to our attention that your myPay account information needs to be updated as part of our continued commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 3 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service.

However, failure to update your records will result in account suspension.

Once you have updated your account records, your Online sessions will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. To update your myPay records click on the Update button.

Thank you,
myPay Customer Center

DFAS provided the following statement regarding this scam:

“Valid SmartDocs messages from DFAS are always sent in plain text, do not include attachments and do not ask you to send any information in response. Your email program may automatically convert a valid SmartDocs message into HTML and convert some text into clickable links. We recommend that you do NOT click on any links within any email message. To access a site referenced in an email, open your browser and type the link (URL) directly into the browser.

Don’t get fooled. If you receive a SmartDocs message that contains a link, don’t click on it. If a URL is listed in the message type it in manually within your browser. Delete unexpected or unsolicited messages that contain attachments or that request you to send information back.”

Online scams and cyber-attacks are increasing daily. MOAA members should be on alert for emails like this. Links that ask users to go to a website and submit personal information should always be taken as suspect.

When asked to follow a link, follow the advice provided by DFAS, and enter the URL manually into the browser for verification. While it may seem cumbersome to constantly be on guard about these issues, taking a few basic steps can protect yourself and your family from scam artists.

You can read the DFAS online protection guidelines at the following link: http://www.dfas.mil/pressroom/onlineprotection.html

(Click on http://www.dfas.mil/pressroom/onlineprotection.html here or above for the details. GF)

 

   

Here is the Process:  If the steps below are new to some, I recommend that you review all of the steps and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here onhttp://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/ or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll downunder “Current Action Alerts” and click on Act Now to Block Big Rx Fee Hikes
  1. At the next screen enter your Zip code if requested and/orhit “Go!” and/or scroll down to “Take Action”  and at “Compose Message” leave ‘Email‘ checked or check ‘Printed Letter‘  to send  Printed Letters instead of sending Emails if desired .
  2. If an  “Issue Area:”line appears just before the Editable Text: and doesn’t have an issue shown, click on the down arrow and select an issue; e. g., Military, Veterans Affairs, etc. (usually required on messages to our Senators)
  3. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired.
  4. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION. The “Phone”number is now required by some Legislators (it’s required if your Senator is from Arizona) .  Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone number if you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  5. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  6. Check ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘ as to whether you want to have a copy of your letter sent to your Email Address (suggested at least for you initial efforts, and to see how your personal data is included in the message).
  7. Hit “Send Message”
  8. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 3 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  9. For Arizona residentsbecause of some current problems with contacting Sen Flake by Email,you will see after hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above, that “Printed Letter” is the most readily observable option for getting your message to him. Step 10 above tells you how to do that..

 

   

 

   

That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!

*Legislative Update 21 August 2015: COLA Future Fizzles

We have 1 Action Item today at Issue 2 below

 

 

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see ACT NOW TO BLOCK BIG RX FEE HIKESCongress is considering drastic pharmacy fee increases for servicemembers and retirees. Pharmacy fees will increase 66 to 75 percent.  (See Issue 2 below for some additional detail and to send messages to your Legislators. GF) 

At Issue 2. we see NICKEL AND DIMING REALLY ADDS UP. TRICARE beneficiaries continue to be easy targets in budget balancing schemes. In his August edition of “The Bottom Line,” MOAA Director of Government Relations Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret) looks at how DoD makes you pay for health care. (See Issue 2 below for the details and to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

At Issue 3. we see COLA FUTURE FIZZLES July Consumer Price Index remains below baseline. Follow trends on MOAA’s COLA Watch.(Click on COLA FUTURE FIZZLES here or above for the details . GF)

At Issue 4. we see SIX WEEKS TO SHUTDOWN? Deadline looms without federal budget. With no budget deal in sight, MOAA outlines some of the options Congress has to avoid a shutdown.  (See Issue 4 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 5. we see PRIORITIZE MILITARY MENTAL WELLNESS  MOAA and WWP co-host the 2015 Warrior-Family Symposium in Washington D.C. Join the discussion on September 9. (Click on PRIORITIZE MILITARY MENTAL WELLNESS here or above 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

 

ISSUES

 

Issue 2. NICKEL AND DIMING REALLY ADDS UP.

August 21, 2015

By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)

TRICARE beneficiaries are doing more than their fair share to decrease military personnel costs.

Last year alone, beneficiaries were responsible for 80 percent of the savings achieved by the Defense Health Agency (DHA). Singling out beneficiaries instead of cutting costs within the DoD continues to be the fiscal answer for the Pentagon and for some members of Congress, who are poised to increase TRICARE fees in this year’s defense bill.

Over the past five years, military beneficiaries have shouldered the majority of DoD’s cost cutting initiatives:

  • TRICARE fee increases: Since 2011, TRICARE Prime annual fees and copays have increased 20 percent. Although automatic annual fee increases are now indexed to cost of living adjustments, Congress initially implemented a “one-time catch-up”.
  • Pharmacy copay increases: Pharmacy copays vary by class, but beneficiaries now pay 60 percent more for their medicine than they did in 2011.
  • Home Delivery Program: In 2013, Congress forced TRICARE for Life beneficiaries to refill most maintenance medications by mail order. Imposition of this mandate restricted choice for beneficiaries and reaped huge savings for DoD. Home delivery saved DoD $215 million in 2014 alone. In October, the Home Delivery Program expands to active duty family members and retirees under age 65.
  • Reduction in TRICARE Prime Service Areas: In 2013, changes to regional TRICARE contracts reduced Prime Service Areas to a 40-mile radius from Military Treatment Facilities. Over 180,000 Prime enrollees were transferred into TRICARE Standard. Although Congress passed a one-time exception a year after implementation, tens of thousands of beneficiaries were affected.

The majority of DoD’s savings have been on the backs of beneficiaries. When the department actually finds ways to cut costs, savings are not passed on to the beneficiary.

For example, DoD negotiated federal pricing for pharmaceuticals, and recouped more than $1.3 billion in refunds from overpayments.

Isn’t it strange that, despite DoD paying less for medications, beneficiaries continue to pay more?

In this year’s defense budget, if DoD has its way, pharmacy copays could triple over the next decade.

The Bottom Line: Military beneficiaries continue to pay more and get less. Congress needs to look at other ways to save money before raiding beneficiaries’ wallets.

Act now! Send a MOAA-suggested message  asking Congress to prevent steep pharmacy fee increases in the defense bill.

(Click on MOAA-suggested message here or above or go to Here is the Processat the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

Issue 4. SIX WEEKS TO SHUTDOWN?

August 21, 2015

With no federal budget in place, and tough rhetoric from the White House, Congress could be facing another shutdown this fall.

The administration is threatening to veto any legislation that exceeds federal budget caps. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are at odds over the appropriate levels of domestic and defense spending.

When Congress returns from the August recess on Sep. 8, lawmakers will have only 10 legislative working days to avoid a shutdown. What options do lawmakers have?

Pass a budget within constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act

The Budget Control Act, (BCA), a compromise deal reached by lawmakers, imposes strict, arbitrary budget caps on federal spending. Any budget that exceeds the caps triggers sequestration, a meat axe series of budget cuts.

Sequestration is particularly damaging to the defense department. If triggered, DoD will have to find $20 billion to cut from its annual budget next year. Defense leaders have said that sequestration is one of the biggest threats to national security.

Pass a Continuing Resolution

A Continuing Resolution (CR) can keep the government operating at last year’s funding levels while lawmakers continue to work on a compromise. CRs are commonly used to ensure uninterrupted operation of government functions, and can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire fiscal year.

While helpful, a CR limits federal agencies from developing long-term budget plans and strategy. Ironically, CRs often result in cost overruns and government delays, the very things lawmakers try to avoid by passing them.

Craft another Murray-Ryan deal

Some lawmakers have expressed a desire for another Murray-Ryan budget deal. The deal, named after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), resulted in the Bipartisan Budget Act. That legislation raised the budget caps for 2014 and 2015 in return for extending sequestration to 2023.

That temporary fix is set to expire on Sep 30.

While defense planners were thankful for the deal at the time, it simply kicked the can and contained a devastating provision to reduce military retirement. Due to aggressive advocacy by MOAA and its partners, Congress repealed the cuts to military retirement in 2014.

“At this point, the prospect of securing a FY16 budget prior to Oct. 1 looks very dim,” said MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Phil Odom, USAF (Ret). “But it’s imperative that Congress engage in reasonable, bipartisan dialogue when they return in September.”

 

   

Here is the Process:  If the steps below are new to some, I recommend that you review all of the steps and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here onhttp://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/ or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll downunder “Current Action Alerts” and click on Act Now to Block Big Rx Fee Hikes
  1. At the next screen enter your Zip code if requested and/orhit “Go!” and/or scroll down to “Take Action”  and at “Compose Message” leave ‘Email‘ checked or check ‘Printed Letter‘  to send  Printed Letters instead of sending Emails if desired .
  2. If an  “Issue Area:”line appears just before the Editable Text: and doesn’t have an issue shown, click on the down arrow and select an issue; e. g., Military, VeteransAffairs, etc. (usually required on messages to our Senators)
  3. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired.
  4. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION. The “Phone”number is now required by some Legislators (it’s required if your Senator is from Arizona) .  Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone number if you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  5. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  6. Check ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘ as to whether you want to have a copy of your letter sent to your Email Address (suggested at least for you initial efforts, and to see how your personal data is included in the message).
  7. Hit “Send Message”
  8. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 3 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  9. For Arizona residentsbecause of some current problems with contacting Sen Flake by Email,you will see after hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above, that “Printed Letter” is the most readily observable option for getting your message to him. Step 10 above tells you how to do that..

 

   

 

   

That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!