President Obama's plan to boost health-care premiums for active-duty and retired military personnel continues to take heavy fire, with Ron Paul and a third Florida congressman wading into the fight. To push more people into the private "insurance exchanges" designated under Obamacare, the administration wants to begin doubling or tripling charges for coverage in the military's Tricare program. The price hikes, which would kick in after the 2012 elections, would affect 1.5 million active-duty personnel and up to 21.8 million veterans. The plan has drawn flak from legions of critics, including veterans' groups, who note that unionized workers at the Defense Department are not subject to the rate increases. Obama's move was even criticized by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican presidential candidate who typically applauds privatization and the dismantling of government programs. “We have put our troops in harm’s way, and we must honor our promises," said Paul, a former Air Force physician and the only military veteran in the presidential race. "Our troops have paid a heavy price these past 10 years," Paul said. "Over 5,000 have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, 40,000 have seen crushing injuries, and hundreds of thousands more suffer from brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder."
To block any assault on Tricare, Paul introduced H.R.1092, the Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act, which prohibits the Department of Defense from increasing Tricare fees without congressional approval. “Instead of cutting our veterans’ benefits, President Obama should truly support our troops by bringing them home to protect our borders and defend our country. Reunite them with their families and make sure they no longer play policeman in dangerous foreign civil wars," Paul said in a statement. "Cutting the benefits of our veterans while we subsidize the security of other wealthy nations like Germany and Japan and play ‘world policeman’ makes no sense," he concluded. Other GOP presidential hopefuls have been quiet on the Tricare issue. Mitt Romney last year broached the idea of issuing private health-care vouchers to veterans. “Sometimes you wonder if there would be some way to introduce some private-sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, 'Each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them,'" the former Massachusetts governor said. "Then they can choose whether they want to go into the government system or the private system with the money that follows them."
Shortly after Obama took office in 2009, the new president contemplated charging treatment of veterans' service-related injuries to their private insurance. That switch was quickly shot down by angry vet groups. But now, three years later, Obama is back with a variation on the theme — steep price increases for Tricare coverage. Citing one example, a congressional report estimates that a retired Army colonel with a family currently paying $460 a year for health coverage would pay $2,048 under the new price schedule. U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, shared Paul's critique of Obama's latest gambit. “While promising free contraceptives and blowing out the federal deficit with Obamacare, the president is increasing the cost of medical care for the men and women who earned it serving our nation," said Stearns, R-Ocala. "We have an obligation to fulfill the promises made to those who served in the military," Stearns said. Reps. Allen West, R-Plantation, and Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, blasted the Obama plan in a Sunshine State News story earlier this week. Speaking for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Commander Richard Eubank has repeatedly warned that any cuts to benefits would be "strongly protested" by his organization. Congressional hearings on the Obamacare military restructuring are scheduled to begin in March. [Source: Sunshine State News Kenric Ward | Posted: 3 Mar 2012 ++]