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Benefit Cuts for 2016: What it Means

It seems like every time you turn around there's another set of folks proposing or putting in place some kind of unnerving cut to military family benefits. I mean, didn't you JUST read this blog post last week? And didn't I just write something identical?

What does the Presidents' 2016 proposed budget mean for military families? Big cuts, that's what. More details here: http://wp.me/p1d7d0-8ij

Sadly, no, this isn't Groundhog Day (silly reader, that was Feb. 2!). This time the cuts are part of the President's 2016 budget proposal. And, kind of like groundhogs, they aren't pretty.

 

First thing is always first.

 

These are, again, just a bunch of proposals. They aren't law. They aren't happening tomorrow. And, yes, they are for 2016 and, yes, that is an entire year from now. I have trouble planning for next Tuesday -- I understand not wanting to think about a year from now. But they are what our leaders would like to see happen so, yes, we need to pay attention to them and, yes, if you don't like them you should be worried.

So what's the deal?

Kill Tricare as we know it.

 

I recently told you about a plan to dismantle Tricare and toss everyone (except Active Duty members and Tricare for Life folks) into an Obamacare-like marketplace.

This is not that.

This, instead, is more like the offing of Tricare we told about last year at this time. So yeah, they've tried this before. They couldn't get Congress to approve it then, and considering how different the suggestion from the commission convened by Congress is, they are unlikely to get them to OK it this time. Still, here is what they want.

Toss out all the plans (except Tricare for Life) and call it "Tricare Consolidated." Sexy name, huh? Under the scheme you would see pretty much no changes if you are an active duty family, medically retired or survivor of someone killed in action and use a military treatment facility (MTF) or live far, far away from one.

But you would see higher fees if you want to see a civilian even though you could use the MTF if you were willing.

And those fees? Instead of being the same for everyone, they would be based even more on rank than they already are. (Ugh, right?).

For my Tricare Standard lovers:

For example, right now if you are on Standard you yearly first pay $100 if E4 or below and $300 if above out of pocket. And then you shell out about "15 percent of negotiated fee" (whatever that happens to be) for most in-network care. But you'll never pay more than $1,000 out of pocket per year.

New plan idea? Price increase. First of all, your no-more-than-per-year out of pocket cost is going to go up from $1,000 to $1,500. Next, you will pay graduated amounts based on rank for services used outside of an MTF. For example, all primary care visits that are not "preventable services" (examples: vaccines, well child visits, mammograms, etc.) will cost $10 if you are E4 and below, $15 if you are E5-O3 and $20 if you are anything higher.

For everyone:

The new plan calls for you to penalized if you use an emergency room for a problem not ruled an "emergency." That means if your solution to the epic lack of available appointments for your kid's ear infection is to take him to the emergency room, this plan calls for you to be charged between $30 and $70 per visit, depending on rank. One would hope that they eliminate the NEED for you to use the emergency room for non-emergencies before they start charging. Can somebody testify?

For non-medical, under 65-years-old retirees:

I'm just going to say it: boy does this whole thing screw you guys over.

Right now, depending on what version of Tricare you use, you may pay an enrollment fee or you may not. Your deductibles and cost shares also depend on the plan. Like everyone else, right now if you use a MTF you are given care for free.

Tricare Consolidated pulls out the rug. In addition to requiring an annual enrollment fee for everyone ($289 for individuals and $578 for families), you'll also be charged regardless of where you get care. If you choose to go to an MTF for primary care, for example, you'll be charged $10 per visit (for non-preventative services). If you choose to go to an in-network civilian, you'll pay $20. Don't live near an MTF? Sorry, buddy. You're paying more. Yearly cap? Up to $3,000 for in-network costs, but the enrollment fee doesn't count toward it, and neither does anything you pay out of pocket at the doctor's office ("point of service").

Prescription cost increases for one and all.

 

For 2015 Congress approved a small (but noticeable) $3 increase in the cost of prescription drugs. If this plan goes through, you should get ready for more.

The only thing this plan doesnt change is the cost of drugs filled at a MTF -- they'll still be free.

This plan will increase fees gradually over the next 10 years. While brand name drugs (both one month supplies purchased at a civilian pharmacy and three month supplies by mail) will start climbing right away (up $8 to $28 for in person and $12 to $28 for mail order), an increase to generic won't be felt until 2019 when both mail order and in person will cost $9. From there generics will increase $1 per year.

The costs of in-person purchased brand-name drugs and mail-order brand name drugs, as well as mail order non-formulary drugs will be $2 per year starting in 2016 until they cap out at $46 and $92 respectively.

Whew.

And that is enough about Tricare for now. Head spinning yet? Me, too.

 

They still want to make epic commissary changes.

 

I'm not going to go over this again since not much has changed since I told you about it last time.

Basic message: decrease store hours and days open, probably cut employees as a result, raise the price of food to cover the cost of shipping it to you poor souls stuck at places like Fort Irwin, Calif. 

They are also planning to ask Congress to make big changes to the laws governing the commissary so that they can raise prices even higher and start carrying items like wine and beer. The only section of this that doesnt make me cringe is the wine and beer part. I mean, really. Let's get an "amen."

They still want to give you less money for housing.

 

It's insult to injury here, folks. First, they want to charge more for health care. Next, they want to make sure you spend more on food. Then, they plan to give you less money for housing.

The basic allowance for housing (BAH) plan calls for slowing the way your rate is calculated until the money you get only covers 95 percent of your housing costs.

This is how it was in the 1990s, I'm told, before I was a part of this glorious lifestyle. Then, housing allowances covered even less. But we've gotten used to this full benefit, and if one thing is true, taking money away is painful after you've gotten used to it. ... and especially if that's all you've ever known.

They've already put this plan into action. This year they slowed the growth so that the allowance only covers 99 percent minus the cost of renters insurance.

You may be thinking "but my rate went up. How is that even possible?"

The answer: the rate is based on a variety of factors, including the cost of housing in your area. So if housing there is more expensive now than it was in 2014, yes what you are receiving went up. But it didn't go up as much as it would've had the DoD been aiming to give you 100 percent of your cost.

And if you live in a place where the rate went down, as always you are grandfathered into the old rate under "rate protection." Lucky you.

 

They want to give slightly more money to other family programs.

 

Wait, what?

That's right, they want some things to receive slightly more funding than they did for 2015. They want to give $100 million extra to child care and youth programs, $200 million more to MWR and $100 million extra to the agency that runs on-base schools, the Defense Department Education Activity (DoDEA).

What is the money being used for? No details were immediately available. Call me selfish, but I'm personally hoping it's to extend the pool hours and hourly childcare availability on Fort Campbell, Ky. What can I say?

 

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