The PJ Tatler

Pentagon Waits to Tell Vets They May Lose Prime Health Coverage

Veterans in select areas of the country may soon be hit with a reduction in health care coverage, a proposal that has sparked outcry from lawmakers representing affected regions.

It looks like the announcement of the controversial move to discontinue TRICARE Prime for military members and their families in certain states, though, will wait until after Election Day.

As first reported by Military Times, starting April 1 TRICARE Prime services would be offered only to those living within 40 miles of a Military Treatment Facility as a result of the incoming contractor, United Healthcare, not planning on covering the services.

This would affect as many as 30,000 veterans and their families in Nevada, Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri. While those outside of an acceptable distance from an MTF wouldn’t lose coverage, they would be reduced to the standard plan that carries higher out-of-pocket costs.

Lawmakers right and left have been sounding off to Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, about the plans to nick healthcare in select TRICARE West Region markets.

For Rep. Mark Amodei’s (R) massive land sprawl of the 2nd Congressional District in Nevada, the MTF location at Fallon Naval Air Station, which covers the northern part of the state, is out of reach for most — including Reno.

“I am very concerned about reports that the incoming contractor for the TRICARE West Region does not plan to continue the current TRICARE Prime Service to communities in Northern Nevada that are currently being serviced by the present contractor,” Amodei said in a letter to Woodson this week.

“In a state consisting of 110,000 square miles and one of the highest concentrations of veterans per capita, this change would eliminate the Prime option for thousands of TRICARE beneficiaries in Nevada who rely on it for medical care.”

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said if the Pentagon is planning on cutting these benefits, military families need to know right away.

“I am very troubled by these changes and am concerned that these alterations are not being made in a transparent manner,” Heller wrote to Woodson.

“Has the Pentagon reached a decision to cut TRICARE Prime providers in Northern Nevada?” he asked. “If so, is the Pentagon waiting to announce this decision? Why? Do you agree that such cuts will cost more money and/or result in longer drives for care to those currently enrolled in TRICARE Prime?”

Reports citing Pentagon sources indicated that discussions have included delaying a formal announcement until after Nov. 6.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) noted that there are only two MTFs in his state, both Coast Guard clinics located on the Pacific coast.

“I also fear that, with the elimination of the Prime option, the network of providers who support this option may no longer be able or willing to provide services to TRICARE beneficiaries,” Walden wrote to Woodson last week. “My constituents have informed me that they prefer the caliber of care and ease of obtaining in-network services provided by their TRICARE Prime primary care managers over the services offered by the TRICARE Standard option.”

Walden said he’s dismayed by an impending reduction to active duty service members, reservists, Guardsmen, retirees, and their families, but is concerned about when the Department of Defense plans to let beneficiaries know about the changes.

“If you are planning to make these changes, but are waiting to inform the TRICARE beneficiaries for whatever reason, I encourage you to make the announcement immediately,” he said, as the changes could have a “significant impact on the lives” of those who have served this country.

Walden also joined in a letter this week to Woodson penned by the greater Oregon delegation, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

“While this might not have a significant impact in a smaller state, or one with more active-duty military installations, this will have a major impact on Oregon TRICARE users,” the delegation wrote. “The only 2 MTFs in Oregon are both located on the coast, leaving tens of thousands of retirees and others with the more expensive TRICARE Standard as their only choice.”

The delegation asked for a meeting with Woodson to discuss proposed changes and explore possible alternatives.

“We understand that there is concern about the costs associated with medical care for military members and retirees, but this proposal unfairly penalizes residents of select states and areas,” they wrote. “In addition, imposing these changes without significant prior notice is simply wrong.”

TRICARE Prime users already saw a 17 percent increase in the cost for most retirees on the plan as of Oct. 1, only the second hike since the program’s inception in 1995.

The Obama administration had pressed for even greater fees, but bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate Armed Services Committees struck down that attempt.

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