4. Health Care Affecting Weapons Buy
Military retiree health care has long been a source of tension for active duty personnel and the retirees’ needs. In 1997, then USAF Surgeon General, Lt. General Charles H. Roadman II, discussed the impact of military need and budget on health care:
I also believe military leaders are faced with a social expectation problem because we recruited and retained on a promise to provide military retirees and their dependents health care for life. It's not in Title 10. It's not funded. But there is not an ounce of doubt in my body that we recruited and retained based on that [promise].
Lt. General Roadman’s statement illustrates the notion that this budget tension is not a new problem. What is new is the current and anticipated rise in health care expenditures to 12% of the DoD budget by 2015. This Title 10 deficiency noted in 1997 by Lt. General Roadman is reiterated today in other proposed findings of H.R. 579 that point out previously passed laws prohibited this fee shifting:
(13) The Department of Defense has chosen to count the accrual deposit to the Department of Defense Medicare-Eligible Retiree Health Care Fund against the Department of Defense's budget, contrary to the amendments made by section 725 of Public Law 108-375.
(14) Department of Defense leaders have reported to Congress that counting such deposits against the Department of Defense's budget is impinging on other readiness needs, including weapons programs, an inappropriate situation which section 725 of Public Law 108-375 was intended expressly to prevent.
Congress clearly states retiree health care is to be funded — it is unfair to continuously pit the needs of active-duty personnel against the needs of those whose service is ended.
5. Difference between civilian and military retirees.
An argument often heard as a statement to justify increasing the burden on military retirees is that civilians pay more for health care. This is a flawed argument. Civilian and military careers are not comparable. Military members accept hazardous and physically demanding positions with considerably less pay than paid to their civilian private sector counterparts. This lifetime of lower pay affects the ability to fund personal retirement plans, and, in acknowledgment, low cost or free health care promised as an offset to accepting military duty.
Part 2 of the DoD Plan for Covering Military Retiree Health Challenged by GAO Blog discusses Sustain the Budget. The GAO report casts doubt on Sustain the Budget saving $1.9 billion for FY 2008. It is certain, Sustain the Budget will affect military retirees, with some retirees leaving TRICARE but not in the numbers required to balance the DoD budget. The question remains whether Sustain the Budget is the best plan for the nation to meet the escalating health care expenses within DoD. Unfortunately, Sustain the Budget does not answer where retirees will get health care coverage nor does the GAO agree with DoD’s estimates on the budget savings the DoD anticipates by retirees leaving TRICARE.
The escalating health care costs for retirees leave Congress with a dilemma. Congress clearly must choose from differing options. The options include either funding additional health care within the DoD budget, allowing the Sustain the Budget proposal to go into effect and affect retirees’ health care, or pass H.R. 579 and its companion Senate Bill to protect retirees’ health care and affect the DoD budget.
The 110th Congress proposed protecting retirees’ health care in H.R. 579, but Congress must decide on the path to follow and act. Precedent was set in 1986 when Congress stopped hospitals from avoiding emergency patients by passing the Emergency Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Military retirees deserve no less protection — an act of Congress to prevent avoiding of veterans and the removal of military retiree health care funding from DoD.
However, the future of H.R. 579 is not bright. H.R. 579 referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel on February 1, 2007, where it continues to flounder. No further action has occurred on this bill even with 178 cosponsors. This bill appears headed for death in subcommittee.
Congress’ decision rests upon, does Congress believe a military retirees’ health care is not merely a benefit, but an entitlement, bought and paid for through decades of service protecting this country. Or does Congress believe the fiscal needs to control DoD health care costs and agree with the Bush Administration that military retirees’ health care should be aligned with general civilian health care plans as the cost containment measure for reducing the escalating health care of retirees.
Retirees have earned their “universal health care” and stopping DoD from changing retirees’ health care is best achieved by passing H.R. 579 and its companion Senate Bill. Congress must act now to protect retiree avoiding and the cutting of retiree health care funding from the Department of Defense.