Jim R. Bounds/AP

Dempsey to troops: ‘We’ve heard your concerns’ on TRICARE fees

Joint Chiefs chairman says Pentagon had to propose reforms in fiscal 2013 budget to control ballooning health care costs.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told service members Tuesday that the Defense Department is continuing to review the military’s health care structure after proposing changes in its fiscal 2013 budget that would increase TRICARE fees.

“I want those of you who serve and who have served to know that we’ve heard your concerns, in particular your concern about the tiered enrollment fee structure for TRICARE in retirement,” Dempsey said in a statement Tuesday. “You have our commitment that we will continue to review our health care system to make it as responsive, as affordable and as equitable as possible.”

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal includes new TRICARE co-pays , increases to TRICARE Prime enrollment fees, initiation of standard and extra annual enrollment fees, and adjustments to deductibles and catastrophic coverage caps.

It also modifies pharmacy co-pays to encourage the use of less expensive mail-order and military treatment facility pharmacies, and includes modest annual fees for Medicare-covered beneficiaries older than 65, or TRICARE for Life.

The TRICARE fee increases mean that military retirees in upper-income tiers would see their health care contributions nearly quadruple during the next five years.

“In forming this budget, we looked at all cost variables,” Dempsey told service members in his statement. “Many of you will know that pay and benefits account for more than one-third of the budget and that health care costs in particular have increased from $19 billion in 2001 to $48 billion today. We had to act to slow this growth.”

These changes would save Defense an estimated $12.9 billion in discretionary funding and $4.7 billion in mandatory savings on Medicare-eligible retiree health care over the next five years.

Defense already has implemented TRICARE Prime fee increases for new retiree enrollees beginning in fiscal 2012; under the fiscal 2013 proposal, the fees would be phased in based on annual retirement pay.