Written by Thomas D. Segel
The Health Care Reform legislation had just been voted and not yet signed into law by the President, yet cyber space was on fire with email concerns about the future of military health care, particularly the programs for retirees.
Depending upon the status of the military individual - active duty or retired - he or she and their dependents are provided healthcare coverage under a variety of programs called TRICARE. Those over age 65 and on Medicare have a supplemental coverage called Tricare for Life.
The email started numbering in the thousands after March 20, when Representative John Carter, the House Republican Conference Secretary sent out a news release that stated House Republicans had managed to turn back a power-grab by Democrats to fold the nation's TRICARE programs into their national healthcare legislation. Said Carter, "House Republicans forced an immediate vote on the floor to remove TRICARE from the controls by the new federal health exchange which will overturn all existing health insurance plans."
Carter also stated that once the attempt to place military health care under the provisions of the Health Care Reform legislation was unmasked the entire House voted to exempt TRICARE from the Democrat bill.
"If they tried to go after us once, they will do it again", said James Fisher, an Air Force retiree from Dallas, Texas. Dozens of messages reflected the same concern.
However, those who administer the various TRICARE programs say they are unaware of any changes or impact on TRICARE of TRICARE for Life programs as a result of the Health Care Reform Legislation. Says the Wisconsin Physician Services, "Please keep in mind that TRICARE, including TRICARE for Life, is neither a health insurance company nor insurance policy. It is a federal health benefit program and therefore many of the rules that apply to private insurance companies may not apply to the TRICARE benefit."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also issued a statement to the TRICARE Management Activity web site (www.tricare.mil) "As Secretary of Defense, the health and well being of America's men and women in uniform is my highest priority. Our troops and their families can be re-assured that the health care reform legislation being passed by the Congress will not negatively impact the TRICARE program, as it already meets the bill's quality and minimum benefit standards. This was clarified by a vote in the House of Representatives yesterday and is expected to be re-affirmed by the Senate. The President and I are committed to seeing that our troops, retirees and their families will continue to receive the bet quality health care."
On March 22, Senator Jim Webb, (D, Virginia), a highly decorated Marine and former Secretary of the Navy, introduced a bill that would explicitly state in law that TRICARE and the Department of Defense (DOD) nonappropriated fun (NAF) health plans meet the minimum essential coverage for individual health insurance required by the health care reform bill..." The TRICARE Affirmation Act would provide clarification by changing the tax code to state it in law. A companion bill has already passed the House of Representatives.
The military community is still keeping their fears about the future of TRICARE alive on the Internet. However, it looks as if key individuals of both political parties are involved with making sure there is legislation passed to ease those concerns.
Thomas D. Segel is a Texan, now of Harlingen in the deep south Rio Grande Valley. A twice-wounded former combat correspondent, he retired after 26 years of service in the United States Marine Corps. Segel holds eight personal decorations for valor and meritorious service. He also holds the Thomas Jefferson Award for Journalistic Excellence and was named Military Writer of the Year.
Segel received his undergraduate degree in government from the University of Texas - Pan American. He is also degreed in English and Journalism and earned a Masters degree in Institutional Advancement from Vanderbilt University. He is nationally published in both print and online media and his conservative writings are distributed by the Paragon News Service. More...