FRA NewsBytes - 02-21-14

In this issue:
President Signs Bill to Grandfather Military Retirees’ COLA Cuts
Veterans Bill Includes Repeal of COLA Cut for Future Military Retirees
TRICARE for Life Begins Notifications for Home Delivery Pharmacy Pilot Program
VA Announces Rollout of Secure Veteran Health Identification Cards
Comparison Tool for Education Benefits and Schools

President Signs Bill to Grandfather Military Retirees’ COLA Cuts

On Saturday, February 15, President Obama signed into law legislation (S. 25) that passed the House and Senate last week to restore military retirement benefits for current military retirees and protect those benefits for service members who joined the military before January 1, 2014. This FRA victory wouldn't have been possible without the substantial grassroots support of FRA members contacting their legislators. FRA worked with other like-minded associations to coordinate and maximize efforts to repeal the COLA cut. The quick passage of the legislation shows that legislators realized it was a mistake for Congress to target military retirees in the budget agreement.

Further threats to pay and benefits are expected to be considered as Congress begins work on the administration’s budget request for FY 2015. FRA will alert Shipmates of these challenges through NewsBytes and “Making Waves” alerts. Stay tuned.

 

Veterans Bill Includes Repeal of COLA Cut for Future Military Retirees

Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, will push for a vote next week on his veterans omnibus legislation: the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act” (S. 1982). While FRA celebrates the passage of legislation to repeal COLA cuts of one percent for those who joined the military before January 1, 2014, it urges its members to address COLA cuts for future military retirees (Those who join the military after January 1, 2014) as well. This legislation goes further to repeal the COLA cuts for future military retirees. FRA believes that no young man or woman considering a career of military service should be deterred from enlisting due to this ill-advised reduction in military retirement compensation.

There are many other important provisions in this legislation that include:

  • Requiring in-state tuition rates at public colleges for all student veterans using Post 9/11GI Bill and MGIB benefits;
  • Extending the VA caregiver program to all seriously injured veterans who were injured in the line of duty;
  • Expanding VA health care to include alternative medicine and dental care;
  • Extending access to VA health care from five years to 10 years for recently separated veterans;
  • Improving delivery of care for veterans who experience sexual trauma while in military service;
  • Improving protections under the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA); 
  • Allowing two-year funding for the entire VA budget;
  • Renewing veterans retraining assistance; and
  • Allowing "Veterans Status" for reservists who served 20 years but were never mobilized.

Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org) to ask their senators to support this important legislation.

 

TRICARE for Life Begins Notifications for Home Delivery Pharmacy Pilot Program

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) has indicated that TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries will receive letters guiding them to TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery or a military pharmacy for some prescriptions as part of a congressionally-mandated pilot program. TFL is secondary coverage for TRICARE beneficiaries who have both Medicare Part A and Part B in the United States and U.S. territories.

The pilot program starts March 15, and it requires beneficiaries who use TFL to get certain medications through Home Delivery or at a military pharmacy. The program applies to refills of maintenance medications taken regularly for chronic conditions.

As part of the pilot program, TFL will stop paying for these medications obtained from a retail pharmacy. The program does not apply to medications for acute conditions taken for a limited time, such as antibiotics or pain medications, and it does not apply to generic drugs.

Congress mandated the pilot program in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The pilot program will last for five years, but beneficiaries may choose to opt out after filling an affected prescription under the pilot program through Home Delivery for one year.

Beneficiaries will be notified if they are taking a medication covered under the program. They will have two “courtesy fills” available through a retail pharmacy before they are responsible for the entire cost of their medication.

Beneficiaries may call the TRICARE pharmacy contractor, Express Scripts, at 1-877-882-3335 or visit the Express Scripts website to switch to Home Delivery or to ask questions about their medications. To switch a prescription to a military pharmacy, beneficiaries may need to get a new prescription from their doctor.

Some people are exempt, including people with another prescription drug plan or people living overseas. People living in a nursing home may contact Express Scripts to request a waiver from the pilot program.

TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery offers beneficiaries a 90-day supply of their medication withno copays for generic drugs (generic retail co-pay is $17 or 20% of the total cost, whichever is greater) and $13 for brand-name drugs (the current co-pay for retail brand-name drugs is $51). Switching from a brand-name retail pharmacy to brand-name Home Delivery can save TRICARE beneficiaries up to $152 every year per prescription. As noted above, beneficiaries can also save by asking doctors to write prescriptions for generic versions of their medications.

 

VA Announces Rollout of Secure Veteran Health Identification Cards

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the phased roll out of newly designed, more secure Veteran Health Identification Cards. In addition to being more secure, the card has been transformed into a Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC). Similar to a typical health insurance card, the VHIC displays the Veteran’s Member ID, a new unique identifier, as well as a Plan ID, reflecting the Veteran’s enrollment in VA health care.

The card replaces the Veteran Identification Card (VIC), which was introduced in 2004. As part of a phased rollout, starting this month (February), the card will only be offered to newly enrolled and other Veterans who have not been issued a VIC. Then, in early April, VA will begin a three-month effort to automatically issue the more secure VHIC to current VIC cardholders.

Enrolled Veterans can get more information about the VHIC by visiting their VA medical facility enrollment coordinator or the website www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhic. Veterans who are not enrolled in the VA health care system can apply for enrollment at any time by visiting www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll. All veterans can also get help by calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or visiting their local VA health care facility.

 

Comparison Tool for Education Benefits and Schools

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently launched a new GI Bill Comparison Tool. Now you can find information online about Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and the schools and training programs available to education beneficiaries. The new tool was developed with the assistance of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Department of Defense and the Department of Education.

The GI Bill Comparison Tool provides key information about college affordability and brings together information from more than 17 different online sources and three federal agencies, including the number of students receiving VA education benefits at each school.

Read more: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2517.

Link to the new GI Bill Comparison Tool at: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/.

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