FRA NewsBytes - 3-28-2014

FRA NewsBytes March 28, 2014

In this issue:

FRA Testifies Before Senate Defense Panel
One Year Doc Fix Extension Passes the House
Commissary Funding Legislation Introduced In House and Senate
VA Removes Annual Income Reporting Requirement
PTS Program Locator

FRA Testifies Before Senate Defense Panel
FRA spoke before the Senate Armed Services’ Personnel Subcommittee this week, sharing concerns of its members and those represented by the Military Coalition (TMC). DLP John Davis, who also co-chairs the TMC, represented enlisted organizations as one of four panelists. He addressed the Coalition’s opposition to pay caps, continued sequestration cuts and other budget reductions on active duty personnel and military retirees. The TMC testimony expressed opposition to the proposed TRICARE fee increases, and cuts to funding of stateside commissaries.

Another panel spoke to the subcommittee in support of the proposed Pentagon budget that included Robert Hale, Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller); Jessica Wright, Acting Undersecretary for Defense Personnel and Readiness; and Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary for Defense Health Affairs. The Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its portion of the FY 2015 Defense Authorization bill by May 21, 2014.

One Year Doc Fix Extension Passes the House
The House voted this week to pass the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act” (H.R. 4302) sponsored by Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (Penn.) that will delay by one year a scheduled reduction in Medicare and TRICARE reimbursements to physicians. The bill passed with some urgency because the current delay in the doctor-payment system is scheduled to expire on April 1, 2014. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure on Monday, March 31. If it is not extended, doctors seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients will have their reimbursements slashed by 24 percent—a move that may force many doctors to stop seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients. The temporary extension expires on April 1, 2015.

As reported in last week’s NewsBytes, the House approved the “SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act” (H.R. 4015) sponsored by Rep. Michael Burgess (Tex.), which will make the “Doc Fix” permanent by repealing the antiquated Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and replace it with a fair, stable, simplified system of physician payments for Medicare and TRICARE programs.

Commissary Funding Legislation Introduced In House and Senate
FRA is supporting the “Military Commissary Sustainment Act” (S. 2017/H.R. 4017) that delays funding cuts for stateside commissaries until 2016. The Department of Defense (DoD) has proposed a gradual elimination of funding for stateside commissaries as a cost-saving measure. The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Micheal Barrett, recently testified that "I personally think it’s ridiculous that we are going after something that saves a young Lance Corporal (E-3) $4,500 a year." Additionally, profits generated from stateside commissaries are used to offset the operating costs at overseas locations where they are needed most. Additionally, the Defense Commissary Agency employs 100,000 people, 62 percent of whom are veterans and/or military family members. Cutting funding for stateside commissaries would negatively impact our military in overseas locations; another unintended consequence would be contributing to the ongoing problem of unemployed veterans. Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their legislators to support this bill at action.fra.org.

VA Removes Annual Income Reporting Requirement
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has eliminated the annual requirement for most veterans enrolled in the VA health care system to report income information. Instead, VA will automatically match income information obtained from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration.

“Eliminating the requirement for annual income reporting makes our health care benefits easier for veterans to obtain,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This change will reduce the burden on veterans, improve customer service and make it much easier for veterans to keep their health care eligibility up-to-date.”

Some veterans applying for enrollment for the first time are still required to submit income information. There is no change in VA’s long-standing policy to provide no-cost care to indigent veterans, veterans with catastrophic medical conditions, veterans with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or for conditions that are officially rated as “service-connected.”

VA encourages veterans to continue to use the health benefits renewal form to report changes in their personal information, such as address, phone numbers, dependents, next of kin, income and health insurance.

For more information, visit www.va.gov/healthbenefits/cost or call VA toll-free at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

PTS Program Locator
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)has provided a “PTSD Program locator” to assist veterans in locating a specialized program by state. To locate nearby specialized Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) programs, search by state, or find specialized PTSD programs by type, go to: http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/ptsd_flsh.asp.

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