TRICARE cost increases proposed

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office shows why some military retirees and veterans could face higher out-of-pocket costs if the Obama administration and Congress take bold moves to reform the U.S. health system and to make federal health programs more efficient.

Among 115 “options” presented, though not endorsed, in the CBO report, several focus on raising TRICARE out-of-pocket costs for retirees and one for families. Others would tighten access to VA hospitals and clinics, or raise VA health fees, for veterans with no service-connected conditions.

Working-age military retirees will find here some of those familiar cost-saving ideas endorsed by the Bush administration to raise TRICARE fees, co-payments and deductibles for retirees under age 62 and their spouses.

But other options are new and, if enacted into law, would raise health costs for Medicare-eligible military retirees and for active duty families. One option suggests having the VA health system disenroll millions of current users who have no service-related injuries or ailments.

Every two years CBO presents daring options for Congress and the executive branch to weigh in trying to control federal spending. The new report, “Budget Options, Volume 1: Health Care,” is unusual in that it focuses entirely on health care, an Obama policy priority, and its arrival is unscheduled.

It’s also significant that the CBO director who led this work was Peter R. Orszag, President-elect Obama’s nominee to be his director of the Office of Management and Budget. OMB is responsible for assembling the president’s annual budget request to Congress.