Lawmakers skeptical of call to abolish Tricare

Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday grilled members of a military commission that recommended abolishing Tricare, the healthcare system for service members.

The proposal was one of 15 unveiled last week by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, and it is quickly proving to be controversial on Capitol Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) asked five members of congressionally appointed panel how doing away with the network and replacing it with an array of private provider options would be an improvement.

Tricare has “diminished in its value” because it has such a limited provider network, responded Stephen Buyer, a former Republican member of the House from Indiana who served as chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Buyer said there are only 12 orthopedic providers in the network at Fort Bragg, N.C. — one of the military’s largest installations — compared to 163 there who accept people enrolled in Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

In addition, many healthcare providers don’t join Tricare because the reimbursement rate is so low, Buyer said.

He said the panel spoke with insurance companies, like Humana, and they are “frustrated” by the existing system.

Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii), an Iraq War veteran who was enrolled in Tricare, said the end goal of replacing Tricare “sounds like it’s going to cost a lot more money.”

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBeto needs to revive talk about his 'war tax' proposal House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Iran talks unlikely despite window of opportunity MORE (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat, pressed the panelists on how much out-of-pocket costs might rise under a private network, a question the commissioners couldn’t fully answer.

Smith said service members deserve the “best, cheapest healthcare,” but agreed that some kind of change is needed.

Other Democrats said they were at least open to the idea.

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTrump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy Beto needs to revive talk about his 'war tax' proposal Gabbard: 'Debate or no debate we are driving forward' MORE (D-Hawaii) said a change might be “necessary” to increase access to healthcare, which has been an issue in her home state, while Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said the commissioners would have to work with lawmakers to “educate” military members and retirees “on the myths that grown up with the expectation that they are getting” better treatment under Tricare.

After the hearing, committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said healthcare is "one of the most complex areas we deal with, so taking some time to study the effects of a change in healthcare is, to me, the biggest challenge ahead of us as we look at these recommendations."

He noted that he represents a district "the size of Kentucky" so he understands the issue of access for current Tricare subscribers.

"It was striking a bell with me when they say we are limiting access now just by limiting our networks," Thornberry told reporters.