FRA NewsBytes 3-7-2014

In this issue:
Administration 2015 Budget Requested Revealed
House Panel Looks at VA Health Care
USO Exec goes to VA
DHA Wants EFT Payments from
TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) Beneficiaries

 

Administration 2015 Budget Requested Revealed

The Administration released details of its FY 2015 budget request this week. It includes a decrease in the Defense Department (DoD) personnel programs from $144 billion in current FY 2014 to $135 billion in FY 2015. The budget intends to slow the growth of military compensation and benefits with provisions that include:

  • Capping military pay increases by one percent for FY 2015 and 2016;
  • Creating an annual enrollment fee for new TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries;
  • Merging TRICARE Standard, Prime, and Extra into one consolidated health plan;
  • Requiring all retirees to use home-delivery or MTF for maintenance drugs;
  • Increasing TRICARE annual fees and pharmacy co-pays for retirees under age 65;
  • Creating a small co-pay ($10) for retirees using Military Treatment Facilities (MTF);
  • Requiring active duty family members to pay a co-pay for TRICARE services;
  • Reducing Base Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments by six percent;
  • Cutting the commissary budget from $1.4 billion to $400 million in three years with only stateside commissaries being cut (see Military Update Column by Tom Philpott on FRA website for more details on commissary cuts); and
  • Cutting Army and Marine Corps end strength (Navy end strength is not reduced).

The Association will oppose these budget-driven pay and benefit cuts and is reviewing other issues addressed in the DoD budget proposal.

FRA staff attended the meeting at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regarding the agency’s FY 2015 budget that increases spending by 6.5 percent over current fiscal year, and a 35.2 percent increase since FY 2009. The proposed budget provides the Veterans Benefit Administration with funds to adjudicate 1.5 million disability and pension claims in FY 2015, which is a 17 percent increase over the current year’s funding. The proposed budget provides $173.3 million for the Veterans Benefits Management System to administer a paperless claims system, and $138.7 million to scan paper documents into e-folders. The proposed $163.9 billion budget also provides $58.7 billion in advanced spending for VA health care for FY 2016. The advanced appropriation for veteran’s health care is a 4.7 percent increase over FY 2015. National President Virgil Courneya is scheduled to testify next week before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee to discuss the VA budget and other VA-related initiatives.

The FY 2015 proposed budget for U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will be reduced by $795 million from the 2014 budget. FRA will review and monitor developments with the Coast Guard budget and other related issues.

 

House Panel Looks at VA Health Care

The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Health Subcommittee recently held an oversight hearing for the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA). At the hearing, VHA was asked about recent media reports that the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center inappropriately destroyed exam requests and veterans' medical records so as to falsely report that they were reducing the disability claims backlog. The allegations were brought forward by a former VA employee. Dr. Robert Petzel, VA Undersecretary for Health, said that these reports are false and misleading, calling them "scurrilous." He stated that the VA Medical Center only deleted old requests from veterans who had repeatedly failed to show up for the exams, and that medical Records in the VA Electronic Health Record System cannot be destroyed.

The Subcommittee also discussed VHA pain management treatments, physician staffing, and VA procurement process.

 

USO Exec goes to VA

The Senate confirmed Sloan Gibson to be the deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) last week. Gibson comes to the VA after more than five-years as the president and CEO of the nonprofit United Services Organizations, which provides morale, welfare and recreation-type services to uniformed military personnel.

During his confirmation hearing, he told Senate Veterans Affairs Committee members his priorities would include the ongoing effort to reduce and eliminate the longstanding backlog of disability claims. He said he also will work to find common ground with the Defense Department on a new strategy for a joint electronic health records system.

Gibson also spent 20 years in the banking industry, retiring from AmSouth Bancorporation in 2004. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earned both Airborne and Ranger qualifications, and served in the infantry in the Army. Gibson earned a Masters in Economics from the University of Missouri in Kansas City and a Masters in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

FRA looks forward to working with the new deputy secretary on issues of mutual concern.

DHA Wants EFT Payments from TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) Beneficiaries

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) wants Reservists with TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) to monitor their electronic fund transfer (EFT) payments. While TRS beneficiaries are required to setup an EFT to pay their premiums, it’s not foolproof and missed payments can result in a loss of health care coverage.

One major reason for missed payments is an expired credit card. Now is a good time to check the expiration date on the credit card used for TRS EFTs. Make sure to update the regional contractor with any new or pending account information.

If a payment is missed because of insufficient funds, beneficiaries must contact the regional contractor as soon as possible to make payment. If an EFT defaults, there is a service charge of up to $20. Failure to pay any overdue premium amount will result in suspension of coverage effective the last day of the month last paid.

TRICARE’s goal is to make it easy to manage and pay premiums through EFT. Premiums are deducted on the first business day of the month, so update the regional contractor with account changes as far in advance as possible. To learn more about TRS premiums and EFT options: www.tricare.mil/Welcome/Enroll/TRS/Premiums.

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