Defense Department proposals to gut commissary funding, a move that likely would've led to store closures, as well as an elaborate plan to combine the various Tricare options into one system known as "Tricare consolidated," have been all but completely rejected by lawmakers.
The plans, which were a part of DoD's fiscal 2015 budget proposal, were not included in the versions of that funding bill approved recently by House and Senate committees.
Instead, for the commissary the House committee approved a $100 million cut to their budget of $1.4 billion, aimed at forcing efficiencies, while the Senate committee made no cuts.
And for Tricare the Senate approved an increase to pharmacy fees at retail stores over the next seven years as a means of pushing people to use the Military Treatment Facility (MTF) pharmacy or the mail order service.
Insiders say the cuts were escaped this time around largely because lawmakers would prefer to wait for the recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC ... and if you don't know what that is, you should definitely read this). That panel, tasked with recommending military benefits cuts to Congress, is set to present their findings in Feb., 2015 -- just in time for the 2016 budget process.
That means that while benefits as we known them are likely safe for this year, that may not be true for 2016, said Tom Gordy, president of the Armed Forces Marketing Council, which represents brokers doing business with military stores.
"Nothing is a done deal yet until those bills are signed into law," he said. "But based on what we're seeing coming out of the Senate and House... it appears that the commissaries are in good shape going forward, yet the dark clouds are still hovering so we just have to maintain a watchful eye."
Joyce Raezer, executive director the National Military Family Association, said her organization saw the rejections coming.
"We weren’t surprised Congress rejected the commissary and Tricare proposals this year," she said. "Both are being scrutinized by the MCRMC and I think Congress wisely recognized that changes made ahead of the Commission’s recommendations couldn’t be undone later."
The Defense funding bills must still be approved by the full House and Senate and then reconciled before a final version is put into law. But insiders said the proposals for Tricare and the commissary are unlikely to reappear in them before that happens. And even the changes approved, such as the $100 million cut to the commissary in the House version, aren't yet guaranteed to be in the final version.