Dempsey: I would pay more for health care

Military Times

Penned By Patricia Kime – Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Feb 14, 2012 17:01:50 EST

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs told Congress on Tuesday he would willingly pay more for health care in retirement than the rate structure currently enjoyed by military retirees.

That sentiment is shared by all members of the Joint Chiefs and senior enlisted leaders, according to a member of the Joint Staff.

Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration’s $525.4 billion defense budget proposal for 2013 is supported by the Pentagon’s senior leadership, including Tricare fee hikes for all military retirees.

In response to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who asked whether he was willing to pay more, Dempsey said: “I am, sir.”

Under the proposed budget, a retired Dempsey would pay an $820 annual fee in fiscal 2013 to enroll his family in Tricare Prime. By 2017, that fee would rise to $2,048.

If Dempsey hung up his uniform tomorrow, his 38 years of service would earn him annual military retirement pay of around $219,000 a year.

According to Defense Department statistics, average military retirement pay in 2010 was $33,000 for enlisted personnel and $37,900 for officers. Those making the average would be expected to pay $600 next year to enroll in Tricare Prime for family coverage, up from $520, and would pay $893 for their annual enrollment fees by fiscal 2017 under the Pentagon plan.

Speaking at a news briefing on the budget Monday at the Pentagon, Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry Spencer, the Joint Staff’s force structure director, said the Joint Chiefs and senior enlisted leaders support the hikes and said the increases would still leave Tricare one of the most “generous” health care plans in the nation.

“In accordance with the principles that guide our budget, they honor our commitment to America’s all-volunteer force and their families,” Spencer said.

The proposed fee increases would not apply to active-duty members or their families, survivors of service members who died on active duty or medically retired troops.

Under the budget proposal, annual enrollment fees for health care would rise for all military retirees. Fees for Tricare Prime would increase 30 percent to 78 percent, to between $600 and $820, depending on military retirement income. The fee for family coverage is now $460 or $520, depending on when the sponsor enrolled.

New enrollment fees also would be created for Tricare Standard and Extra and for Tricare for Life, the benefit for Medicare-eligible retirees.

At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Graham voiced his support for the health care proposals.

“It’s hard to ask those who’ve done the most to secure our freedom to give more, but I’m willing to do it,” Graham said. “I’m willing to grandfather the current system but also willing to look outside the box … because if we don’t do something in terms of health care growth and entitlement retiree benefits, you’re going to compete the retired force with operational needs and that’s just not where we want to go.”

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