Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is the Military Paying More for Healthcare While Politicians & Gov't. Employees Aren't?

"Is the Military Paying More for Healthcare While Politicians & Government Employees Aren't?"

I've seen this a few places around the internet over the last few days. At question is does the new federal Budget contain an increase to deductible's for those in the military while politicians and those who work in Government have no contribution change or salary reduction. There's a few different variations of it, but that's the standard wording.

Let's first look at the question of increasing costs for our military. The answer isn't a simple yes or no. It depends. With the Budget Control Act of 2011 now in effect, the Defense Department has to produce a savings of $487 Billion dollars. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said service members and their families should not see any increases in fees or deductables. Most of the increases will effect those retirees under the age of 65, but that they will still pay a lower premium than they would for a private plan.

There ARE NOT increases scheduled for active duty servicemen, survivors of military members who died on active duty or medically retired service members.

There WILL BE increases for active duty family members when they obtain prescriptions from a mail order or retail pharmacies. Prescriptions will be continued to be filled for beneficiaries at no cost when filled at military treatment facilities.

There will be increases to retirees enrollment fees and deductables, including:

-- Increasing enrollment fees for retirees under age 65 in the TRICARE Prime health plan, using a tiered approach based on retired pay that requires senior-grade retirees with higher retired pay to pay more and junior-grade retirees less;

-- Establishing a new enrollment fee and increasing deductibles for the TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra plans;

-- Establishing a new, tiered enrollment fee for the TRICARE-for-Life program for retirees 65 and older;

-- Increasing pharmacy co-pays while offering incentive costs for use of mail order delivery and generic medicines;

-- Indexing fees, deductibles, pharmacy co-pays, and catastrophic caps to reflect the growth in national health care costs.

Also see the chart below: (Click on the chart to enlarge it...)

So, there are some very specific and very targeted increases in the mix going forward. The increase in pharmacy co-pays, it should be stressed can be avoided if the medicines are purchased at a military treatment facility. 

THE second question about politicians and government workers not seeing a similar increase to their costs needs to be split into two separate questions. For our purposes, let's assume that "Government Employees" means Federal workers and not State, Local or City workers. Federal workers saw their health care premiums rise by 7.2% in 2011, after receiving just a 1.4% pay raise in the same year. While the rates have increased, its important to note that the premiums now include free preventative care, free tobacco cessation treatment and for the first time, children of federal employees will now be permitted to stay on their parents plan up to age 26. Private sector plans were expected to increase at a rate  between 8.9% and 10.5%. 

So, the claim that federal government workers weren't asked to pay anything extra for their health care is incorrect and in most cases, they paid a larger difference than those few active military families who are choosing to buy their meds out of system. Also, don't forget that President Obama signed a two year Federal employee wage freeze into effect in late 2010 that lasts until the end of 2012. The House has also voted to extend this pay freeze through the end of 2013, as well. The pay freeze was expected to save $60 billion dollars during that time frame. 

Lastly, what about politicians? Again, we'll work with those in Congress and the Executive Branch for comparison. According to, those in the House and Senate are "allowed to purchase private health insurance offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which covers more than 8 million other federal employees, retirees and their families." In other words, they're getting hit with the same increases other federal workers have been as well. (The Federal pay freeze does not apply to active military, by the way...)

With anti-government sentiment at an all time high, its easy to see how stories like this catch fire on the internet and spread quickly, infuriating readers and spawning long angst-ridden threads on social media sites like facebook and various message boards. The blame game gets fired up pretty quickly but, at least in this case, the allegations aren't very fair or accurate. Healthcare is extremely expensive and regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) it effects us all. The Military has been charged with cutting back expenses and hitting some younger retirees with higher premiums and those who want to purchase drugs out of the VA system doesn't constitute a full scale, across the board massive increase in deductibles. Combine that with the knowledge that federal government workers are getting hit at least as hard (probably harder) than servicemen, that part of the claim doesn't hold water either. It is true there's no salary reduction for government workers, but there's none for the military either. 


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