Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is co-sponsoring a bill to help more than 4,000 retired Pennsylvania veterans keep their health care plans.
On Oct. 1, a new policy from the Department of Defense will force some retired veterans off of TRICARE Prime, the most affordable option in the Military Health System for people under 65.
According to the new policy, only veterans living within 100 miles of a Military Treatment Facility or a BRAC site will be able to stay on TRICARE Prime. Now, more than 171,000 people nationally are at risk of losing the military health care.
Casey’s legislation would require the Secretary of Defense to give veterans a one-time opportunity to stay with or change their health care. Those who choose to stick with TRICARE Prime can only be eligible for the plan if they continue to live in the same ZIP code.
After this one-time option, all new TRICARE Prime beneficiaries must follow the guidelines laid out by the Department of Defense.
According to Casey, Defense officials say eliminating TRICARE Prime could save the federal government more than $55 million a year.
But Casey said TRICARE has been under budget for the last several years, including $771 million in 2010.
“The defense department doesn’t need to do this for a cost saving reason,” he said. “That’s no longer valid, and they certainly don’t need to take a step which will increase the cost and increase the anxiety that our TRICARE veterans and their families face.”
At the end of the month, the 4,000 veterans will be switched over to either TRICARE Standard or TRICARE Extra, more expensive plans with higher out-of-pocket costs.
With many of these veterans living on fixed income, Casey said the risks are too high to just stand by.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world to get this bill passed,” he said. “I would hope that the defense department would consider taking action even prior to or in the absence of passing a bill.”