Concerns About a Possible Government Shutdown
The House and Senate are working on a short term continuing resolution (CR – H. J. Res. 59) to keep the government funded after the beginning of the new fiscal year next Tuesday. Absent an agreement before midnight on Monday, there may be a government shutdown until Congress can reach an agreement on spending and authorization measures.
Regarding the impact of a shutdown, military personnel are considered “essential” and will be paid in the event of a shutdown, and according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), retirees will also continue to be paid because funding retired pay is mandatory and does not require annual congressional appropriations. TRICARE benefits will also continue and veterans’ health care benefits will continue as well, since the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is on a two-year funding cycle through FY 2014.
Bigger Sequestration Cuts Approach
The pending CR does not eliminate sequestration, and another round of automatic budget cuts are also slated to take effect October 1, 2013. It’s important to note that 50 percent of these cuts must come from the Defense Department (DoD), even though DoD makes up only 17 percent of the total budget. This current fiscal year’s defense cuts amounted to $37 billion; next year (FY 2014), those reductions will increase to $52 billion unless alternative spending reductions are authorized. Neither the Administration’s 2014 budget request nor the House or Senate versions of the Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1960, S. 1197) account for the effects of sequestration.
Members are strongly urged to use FRA’s Action Center to ask their elected officials to exclude defense from further sequestration cuts.
TRICARE Prime Coverage Ends for Some Beneficiaries
Effective October 1, 2013, TRICARE Prime will end for most retirees, their family members and military survivors who reside more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility (MTF) or from a base closure site. Some beneficiaries may be able to enroll in existing TRICARE Prime networks near military bases if they reside less than 100 miles from that network and waive the 30-minute driving-distance standard imposed by TRICARE for patient safety. This change will affect more than 150,000 TRICARE Prime enrollees.
Those affected should have already received specific details from TRICARE about the change and how it impacts them. For more information, please contact the local TRICARE Service Center or visit http://www.tricare.mil/psa.
FRA strongly supports a provision in the House version of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1960) that requires TRICARE to make a one-time continuation offer to current Prime beneficiaries, and a similar floor amendment to the Senate version is expected be filed when the bill is considered by the full senate. FRA views the reduction of the areas served by TRICARE as a reduction in earned benefits, and strongly supports the requirement to offer current beneficiaries the opportunity to maintain their current coverage. Weigh in now on this issue!
CFPB Examiners Seek to Identify Military Predatory Lending
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released guidelines to its examiners on how to identify consumer harm and risks related to violations of the Military Lending Act (MLA) when supervising payday lenders. The CFPB is committed to ensuring that payday lenders comply with the act, which provides greater protections for military families, including capping annual interest rates at 36 percent. The new guidelines are addressed in an updated exam manual that the CFPB released for the short-term, small-dollar lending industry. “Protecting service members is a priority for the CFPB,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We will use the authority Congress gave us to enforce the Military Lending Act (MLA) and to safeguard our men and women in uniform from illegal payday loans.”
Payday loans are typically designed for small amounts, as a way to bridge a cash shortage between pay or benefit checks, and must be repaid quickly. Through its enforcement and supervisory work, the CFPB will continue to scrutinize lenders to make sure they are following the MLA requirements. Specifically, payday lenders must follow the requirements of the law for all closed-end loans of $2,000 or less and with terms of 91 days or less.
New Options for Communicating with MTF
TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) is rolling out an online application that allows patients to securely communicate with their medical staff at military treatment facilities (MTF). To ensure confidentiality, only the patient and his/her health care team have access to messages. Patients can use the online application to request appointments, receive test and lab results, communicate online with the health care team about non-urgent symptoms, request immunization records, and access patient education materials.
The online system will allow patients to obtain written advice that might otherwise be forgotten or misunderstood if communicated verbally. It will help patients avoid the annoyance of phone trees and/or playing “phone tag.” The new system will also allow patients to follow up on health care issues without the inconveniences of traffic, parking or lost days of work.
This new online communication tool is being rolled out by the Army, Navy, and Air Force medical services.