Senators join forces to contain TRICARE hikes

Bipartisan bill would cap increases to certain health insurance fees in the program.

Increases to certain health care insurance fees in the TRICARE program would be capped under a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Friday.

The 2012 Military Health Care Protection Act links hikes to enrollment fees, deductibles and drug co-payments for military retirees to their annuity. It requires that the percentage of increase in certain TRICARE fees in any given year does not exceed the percentage of increase in military retired pay. TRICARE, the military’s health insurance program, serves 9.3 million beneficiaries, including 5.5 million military retirees.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., comes on the same day the House passed a $643 billion Defense authorization bill that includes modest increases to some TRICARE drug co-pays. The Republican-led House rejected the Obama administration’s recommendations to raise premiums for military retirees based on their retirement pay, in addition to other fee hikes. The White House TRICARE proposals could find a warmer reception in the Democratic-led Senate, where the Armed Services Committee is slated to mark up its 2013 Defense authorization bill next week.

Lautenberg, however, has successfully fought efforts to raise TRICARE fees in previous years by offering amendments to the Defense authorization legislation.

“A tough fiscal climate is no excuse to balance the budget on the backs of our nation’s military retirees and their families,” the New Jersey senator said in a statement. “Those Americans who serve in our military do so much to protect us -- the least we can do is protect them against excessive health care costs.” Lautenberg is an Army veteran.

“This bill would give veterans on TRICARE greater assurances that their costs will not spiral out of control beyond their means to pay for them,” Rubio said in a statement. “Military retirees who rely on fixed incomes usually don’t have the ability to go out and find new jobs to pay for increased TRICARE costs. This effort will bring more predictability to help them budget for their health care needs.”