FRA NewsBytes - 1-17-2014

2014 Spending Bill Passes with Most of the COLA Cuts

The House and Senate finished their work on a final omnibus spending bill (which combines 12 spending bills) for FY 2014 that provides $1.1 trillion for the current fiscal year and restores $20 billion in defense spending. The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that expires Saturday, January 18, 2014.

The House (359-67) and Senate (72-26) passed the measure this week (a 1500 page amendment to HR 3547) and it now goes to the president to be signed into law. The bill excludes disabled retirees and widows receiving Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) benefits from the one-percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) cut for retirees under age 62 that will take effect December 1, 2015. Although this is a step in the right direction, the FRA was supporting an amendment to repeal the one-percent COLA cut for all retirees under age 62. The Association believes these benefits have been earned with 20 or more years of arduous military service. Unfortunately, the bill was rushed through and amendments were not allowed in either the House or the Senate. FRA will continue to work to repeal this COLA cut before its effective date.

Retirement Commission Final Report Delayed

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report was originally due May 14, 2014, but the FY2014 Defense Authorization Act delayed the final report until February 2015. The FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act established the nine-member commission to review military compensation and retirement programs and make recommendations for their modernization to the president and Congress in the spring of 2014. The commission has been charged to review “the full breadth of the systems,” including healthcare, military family support, and any federal programs that could influence the decision of current or future service members to stay in uniform or leave the service. Before making their final recommendations to Congress and the president, the commission must examine the impacts of proposed recommendations on currently serving members, retirees, spouses, children and survivors.

In December 2013, FRA submitted a written statement to the commission that includes FRA’s 2014 legislative agenda. The Military Coalition also provided past relevant written testimony to the commission, including testimony provided by Past NED Joe Barnes before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee in April 2013 regarding FRA’s 2013 legislative agenda, and testimony provided by DLP John Davis before the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee in October 2011 regarding FRA’s opposition to the Defense Business Board report, which recommended replacement of the current military retirement system with a 401 (k) program. FRA will closely monitor the commission’s deliberations and oppose any recommendations to “civilianize” military pay and benefits.


TRICARE Ends Walk-in Admin Services at 189 Facilities

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) announced this week that TRICARE military health plan service centers will end administrative walk-in services in the United States on April 1, 2014. Because our overseas areas are unique, walk-in service at TRICARE Service Centers in all overseas areas will continue. While the 189 stateside facilities will stop taking walk-ins, beneficiaries can accomplish their tasks online (see story below) or by phone. DHA believes this change will not affect any TRICARE medical benefit or health care service, and it will allow the DHA to save $250 million over the next five years. The DHA wants to make it easy for beneficiaries to connect to the health information they need on the go.

TRICARE.mil can be used on mobile devices including tablets and smartphones, and beneficiaries can go to the TRICARE homepage via a web browser to get instant access to benefit and contact information. The mobile site offers the same great tools beneficiaries use online: podcasts, TRICARE TV, access to educational materials and TRICARE news.

Beneficiaries also have access to a variety of mobile options through TRICARE’s regional contractors:

  • Health Net Federal Services, LLC, the North Region contractor, uses www.hnfs.com/go/mobile, where beneficiaries can access contact and benefit information, and locate TRICARE-authorized providers.
  • Humana Military, a division of Humana Government Business, the South Region contractor, has Humana Military Mobile, which is located at m.humana-military.com. The site provides access to beneficiary eligibility and plan information, links to a provider locator, and has a search tool for urgent care centers.
  • United Healthcare Military & Veterans, the West Region contractor, operates the “OptumizeMe” app. OptumizeMe promotes healthy living and lets users challenge others to health and fitness goals on their smartphones. Users can also track their own progress and post results to Facebook. OptumizeMe is available on iTunes and the Google Play store.

Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI), the TRICARE pharmacy contractor, has an enhanced “Express Scripts” mobile application available for download through the iPhone App Store, or Google Play for Android devices. Using ESI’s mobile app, beneficiaries can refill, renew and track prescriptions ordered through TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery. They can also set medication reminders, locate the nearest retail pharmacy, search for drug information, transfer to Home Delivery and more. The mobile app offers the most convenient way to manage pharmacy benefits.

milConnect is the Defense Manpower Data Center’s mobile site for Android phone users available via the Google Play store. The app helps beneficiaries locate ID card-issuing facilities, find contact information for TRICARE Regional Offices, find information using a searchable FAQ section, and log in with a Department of Defense Self-Service Logon to change their address in DEERS or change their TRICARE enrollments. 

TRICARE’s mobile options make it simpler for beneficiaries to get the information they need to manage their health care options.


TRICARE Will Not Cover Certain Lab Costs

In January 2013, the Defense Health Agency (DHA) stopped reimbursing clinical laboratories for more than 100 different genetic or “molecular pathology” tests. This change occurred without notice to TRICARE beneficiaries or health care providers. FRA has signed onto a letter from The Military Coalition (TMC) asking DHA to reverse this policy. What drove decision by TRICARE last January to stop reimbursing for many genetic or laboratory-developed tests (Lets) was the American Medical Association’s publication of new Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for laboratory tests. The codes gave greater transparency to how TRICARE was being billed, and DHA determined that many lab tests previously covered were not “medically necessary.”

For more information on this issue, members can read the January 9, 2014 Military Update column from Tom Philpott located on the FRA website at: http://www.fra.org/AM/template.cfm?template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=15909&section=news


New NED with New E-mail Address

The new National Executive Director (NED), Thomas Snee, has a new e-mail address. He can be reached at: NEDFRA@fra.org. The phone number for the NED has not changed; he can be reached at 703-683-1400, x 101.