BIG TRICARE ‘REFORMS’ REJECTED; CAPS ON PAY, BAH RAISES EYED
Both the Senate and House armed services committees have rejected two TRICARE reform plans, one from the Obama administration to raise fees and consolidate the triple-option health benefit, and a second from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to replace TRICARE entirely with a menu of civilian health insurance options.
Both ideas went too far to win support from the armed services committees. Indeed only the Senate panel is willing to back even another round of pharmacy co-pay increases for brand name drugs filled off base.
The committees are divided too over the administration’s call to continue to cap annual military pay raises and to dampen Basic Allowance for Housing rate increases until stateside members living off base are paying five percent of their rental costs and utilities out of pocket. Again, only senators appear willing to accept the notion that personnel costs must be slowed.
Committee differences are likely to survive passage of separate versions of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, leaving it for House-Senate conferees to negotiate compromises before final passage.
The House committee reported out its bill, HR 1735, the first week of May. The Senate committee planned to release full details on its bill after completing closed-door mark-up sessions by midmonth. On May 12, however, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of military personnel subcommittee, and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), its ranking Democrat, presented sketched out key personnel initiatives endorsed so far by their panel.
“I want to state up front that sequestration has caused us to make some difficult choices, Draconian choices,” Graham said. “And until we can replace sequestration [as set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA)] with more rational cuts, these choices are only going to get worse over time.
The House committee shaped its personnel package assuming $38.3 billion will be restored to the fiscal 2016 defense budget without having to repeal the BCA, just by adding those extra dollars to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which as wartime spending is not subject to BCA caps.
President Obama’s budget also shows a $38.3 billion restoral in defense spending but on the assumption BCA caps on domestic spending are lifted too, which the Republican-controlled Congress refuses to consider. So Obama vows to veto the House defense bill if it clears Congress.
The Senate committee has shaped its defense bill assuming BCA caps will remain. Until the mandated cuts are replaced “with something that will not do damage to the ability of the nation to defend herself,” Graham said, his subcommittee has to steps to curb personnel costs. Therefore his subcommittee proposes:
ANOTHER PAY RAISE CAP of 1.3 percent next January, the figure requested by the administration. The House committee endorses a 2.3 percent basic pay increase to keep pace with private sector wage growth.
DAMPENING HOUSING ALLOWANCES with another one percent trim to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) increases planned for January, thus sustaining the administration’s commitment to slow BAH growth gradually until rates cover only 95 percent of members’ rent and utility costs.
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