Health reform bill maintains VA programs

Recently, someone has put in circulation emails aimed at Veterans that charge Congress has a plan to compromise the health care benefits of military retirees.  Specifically, this e-mail claims that the health care reform legislation currently before Congress would limit or terminate Tricare for Life. This is, quite simply, false. The health care reform bill does not affect VA health care or Tricare in any way. To the contrary, it maintains these programs while creating new choices for veterans and their families.

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We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who wear the cloth of this nation and to the families that support them. Having served as a U.S. Naval officer for 31 years and as the highest-ranking military Veteran ever elected to the U.S. Congress, and as the son of a WWII Veteran, I have no higher priority than the welfare of those who serve this Nation and their families. Identifying their needs and then finding the ways and means to address those needs in a comprehensive and responsible way has been among my highest priorities since assuming office. Congress should not support – and leadership on both sides of aisle has opposed – legislation that jeopardizes the benefits that these men and women have earned and so rightly deserve.

Tricare has four main benefit plans including a health maintenance organization option (Tricare Prime), a preferred provider option (Tricare Extra), a fee-for-service option (Tricare Standard), and a Medicare wrap-around option (Tricare for Life). Military retirees who are eligible for Medicare can enroll in Tricare for Life (TFL), which was introduced in Fiscal Year 2002. The Obama Administration has not proposed increasing Tricare user fees for 2010. In fact, the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2009, introduced and passed by a Democratic Congress, specifically prohibited fee increases proposed in the Bush Administration’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget. Congressional Democrats have gone further, dismissing the reduction of TFL benefits as a source of savings for the health care bill. No such language is included in any of the health care reform legislation in either the House or the Senate.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) document that is mentioned in these disingenuous emails is a regular report that the CBO prepares for the House and Senate Budget Committees. The document provides an overview of health-related policy options, with each option showing explanatory data as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the options they describe. The CBO does not propose or draft legislation, so they have not drafted legislation that would reduce TFL benefits.

I know that all benefits extended to our nation’s veterans are earned, not given. Our service men and women continue to protect us each and everyday. In Congress, I will continue to work each and everyday to protect them and their families, both during active duty and as veterans retire.