At a Pentagon press briefing on 16 APR, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said congressional tinkering with the $613 billion 2013 Defense Department budget could have unintended consequences and result in a hollow force. Flanked by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Panetta also defended the long-term Defense strategy unveiled in January, saying it will help the Pentagon to slash its budget by $487 billion over the next 10 years. In March, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, told a National Journal forum that senior military commanders were dishonest in presenting Congress with a budget request he doesn't believe they fully support. After Dempsey charged Ryan with calling senior military leaders liars, Ryan backed off and said, "I really misspoke." While not addressing Ryan directly, Panetta emphasized that the department's military leadership backed both the 2013 budget and the Defense strategy, which aims to develop a lean, postwar force focused on the Asia-Pacific region and enabled by technology, especially cyber, space and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Panetta said the 2013 budget is a "zero-sum game" and any changes to it will require cuts in key systems and projects that support the long-term strategy. The budget includes increases in fees for the Defense TRICARE health insurance program ranging from $35 to $155 per month for military retirees in an effort to curb spiraling health care costs. Defense Comptroller Robert Hale said in February that these increases, after four years, would boost retiree health care costs to just under $2,000 a year, compared with the $4,000 per year federal civilian employees pay. The National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS) called on Congress16 APR to stop the increase in TRICARE fees. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Jack Klimp, NAUS President and chief executive officer, said, "It's an outrage to hear DoD tell military retirees that the costs for promised benefits are squeezing out available resources for our national defense." Panetta said if Congress does not go along with the TRICARE fee increases this will amount to a $13 billion hit to the long-term Defense budget, which could affect readiness and possibly lead to reductions in troop strength. [Source: NextGov Bob Brewin article 16 Apr 2012 ++]
The National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS) strongly opposes the Pentagon plan for steep increases in TRICARE fees. The federal fiscal year 2013 defense proposal would raise fees for all programs in TRICARE, the military health care plan.“It's an outrage to hear DoD tell military retirees that the costs for promised benefits are squeezing out available resources for our national defense,” said retired Marine Lieutenant General Jack Klimp, NAUS President and CEO. “NAUS is compelled to protect those who served to protect us,” Klimp said. “After a career of defending our citizens and our freedom, these brave men and women should not have to fight to keep the nation’s side of its obligation.”
Under the Pentagon’s plan, TRICARE Prime annual enrollment fees for a family would jump nearly four-fold over five years. A rapidly growing enrollment fee would be initiated for TRICARE Standard and one would be imposed for the first time on TRICARE for Life, too. Pharmacy copays would increase to $34 per prescription from $9. And Beneficiaries would pay $3 billion more next year for their healthcare benefits they sacrificed in armed service to earn. “Congress has a unique responsibility to act—indeed it has a moral obligation,” the NAUS President said. “TRICARE is an earned benefit. It is an integral part of a moral contract, a practical fulfillment of a nation's promise to those who honorably served a career in the Uniformed Services.” The NAUS chief executive asks Congress to stop the war on TRICARE, “Protect those who served to protect you. They paid a personal price to earn their benefits. Don't break faith.”
On an more upbeat note the House Armed Services Subcommittee said “No” to TRICARE fee increases. On 25 APR they released legislative language that will be considered by the Subcommittee on Military Personnel at their markup. Most significant, the Subcommittee mark does not, repeat, does not, contain provisions that will provide for higher TRICARE fees and premiums. Instead, the Subcommittee inserted language expressing a sense of Congress that “Career members of the uniformed services and their families endure unique and extraordinary demands and make extraordinary sacrifices over the course of a 20- to 30-year career in protecting freedom for all Americans; and those decades of sacrifice constitute a significant pre-paid premium for health care during a career member’s retirement that is over and above what the member pays with money.” [Source: NAUS News Release & AFSA On Call 16 & 25 Apr 2012 ++]