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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Cost of Living Adjustment, Hurricane Relief and More

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Military personnel and their family members affected by Hurricane Matthew could face less red tape in seeking medical care. TRICARE is has waived referral requirements for beneficiaries enrolled in TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Prime Remote in the entire state of Florida and within 100 miles of the East Coast through Oct. 20. Beneficiaries in Cuba enrolled in TRICARE Prime Overseas may seek care (without a waiver) in the United States until Nov. 1.  

Enrollees also should contact Express Scripts to find out if emergency refill procedures are in place. If so, beneficiaries may take their prescription bottle to any TRICARE retail network pharmacy, or, if they use a retail chain, try to fill the prescription in another store in that chain. Beneficiaries may request assistance from another pharmacy, but it's at that pharmacy's discretion to help, according to an Air Force release. 

Next Tuesday, the government will release new cost of living adjustment figures, which could affect retirement benefits, including Social Security. Don’t expect to see any significant increase, though. The COLA is based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, which is calculated monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the Social Security Administration explains:

“A COLA effective for December of the current year is equal to the percentage increase (if any) in the average CPI-W for the third quarter of the current year over the average for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective. If there is an increase, it must be rounded to the nearest tenth of one percent. If there is no increase, or if the rounded increase is zero, there is no COLA.”

But because government data has shown very little price inflation, retirees saw no COLA in 2016. Experts expect 2017 may bring a slight increase, but don’t count on it. That doesn’t sit well with many feds, who also must shoulder a huge increase in the cost of long term care coverage. And just last week, OPM announced an average 4.4 percent spike in premiums under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.    

As Mike Causey noted in a column at Federal News Radio last month, “Tons of retirees who depend on the COLA find it hard to believe that prices have risen so little in the past two years that they got a zero COLA in January, 2016 and are looking at a tiny increase, if any, in 2017.”

An official of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees told Causey the problem arises from how the COLA is calculated. NARFE supports using the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly to determine the COLA for retirement benefits, not the CPI-W. “With seniors spending more money on things like health care, the costs of which are rising at a faster rate than other consumer costs, the CPI-E would paint a more accurate picture of the prices faced by seniors than the CPI-W,” NARFE told Causey.

Here’s one way to keep health costs down: Get a flu shot. The Defense Department has announced that it won’t be using FluMist, however, at any Defense or TRICARE facilities. That’s because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended against using the inhalant this year because studies showed it is not effective in preventing influenza among certain age groups.

Officials recommend that nearly everyone, ages six months and older, get a flu shot. 

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