The Washington Post

House panel set to block increase in Tricare premiums

Correction: An earlier version of this article about the Tricare military health program incorrectly said that its annual cost is projected to hit $65 billion in five years. In fact, that estimate covers the Defense Department’s total health-care budget. The department declined to provide a projection for how much of that cost would be attributable to Tricare. This version has been corrected.

A Walter Reed employee gives a sign for another wounded soldier to be loaded inside a special, industrial-sized ambulance that transports critically injured to the hospital. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

A House panel plans Wednesday to prohibit any increase in health-care premiums for working-age military retirees, thwarting — again — a push by the Pentagon to hold down costs by raising fees as soon as Oct. 1.

But the long debate over the military health program known as Tricare is likely to continue for months as Congress wrangles over whether to risk offending one of Washington’s most powerful constituencies to address the military’s exploding health costs.

The personnel panel of the Armed Services Committee also plans to approve a 1.6 percent raise for service members that would take effect Jan. 1, the same increase in the Obama administration’s defense budget for next year.

The Defense Department also would be required to reduce its growing military health costs by consolidating medical commands in the armed services. Also scheduled for passage Wednesday is a congressional review of the cost of having contractors provide medical treatment for the military, another potential path to saving money.

The proposal by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the personnel panel, would block any fee increases for retired service members who are still working, continuing a prohibition passed by Congress in recent years.

Soldiers wounded in Afghanistan are offloaded from a C-17 aeromedical flight in Maryland, their first stop on U.S. soil. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Tricare premiums have not changed in 16 years, but the costs of the health-care plan are exploding. The Defense Department’s total health-care budget is projected to hit $65 billion in five years. The department declined to say how much of that cost would be attributable to Tricare. The higher fees the Pentagon has proposed for the Tricare program’s popular HMO are part of a Pentagon effort to slash personnel costs by $7 billion.

When the Pentagon unveiled its budget in February, it asked 586,000 military retirees to pay $520 a year for family coverage, up from $460. The increase was more modest than Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had proposed in three previous years. All were dead on arrival in Congress, opposed by service groups who said low health-care costs were a reward for service members’ sacrifices.

Wilson and his counterpart in the Senate, James Webb (D-Va.), vowed to oppose any fee increase this year, reflecting the view of many service groups. The Senate Armed Services Committee is not expected to take up the defense budget until June.

But Wednesday’s House vote still needs to clear that chamber’s full Armed Services Committee, which is scheduled to vote on the defense budget on May 11. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, supports the administration’s plan.

“There has not been a [Tricare] increase since 1994,” McKeon spokesman Josh Holly said. “He does not want to see a dramatic increase in rates. But he also believes now might be the time for a modest increase.”

“We still think the Tricare issue is up in the air,” said Mike Hayden, deputy government relations chief for the Military Officers Association of America, among the most influential service members groups. “Our biggest concern right now is the conflicting information we’re getting.”

The officers association testified at Capitol Hill hearings this spring that it would accept a modest fee increase, but it wants to tie future increases to the cost of inflation, traditionally about 3 percent. The Pentagon has proposed tying future increases to growth in health costs, closer to 6 percent.

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.