Chapter News

News Story

January News From MOAA National

Dateline: 1/1/2017

Defense Bill: Pay, SBP, TRICARE, and Housing Wins

House and Senate leaders resolved hundreds of differences between their respective versions of the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Bill, and followed MOAA's and The Military Coalition's recommendations on most of them. 

Here's a summary of selected outcomes. 

Currently Serving Issues

Pay raise: Approves a 2.1 percent 2017 military raise (matching the average American's), rather than the 1.6 percent proposed by DoD. Force levels: increases for all services significantly above the Pentagon proposals. Housing Allowance: Rejects a Senate-proposed plan that would have cut allowances by tens of thousands of dollars a year for dual-servicemember couples and other military members who share housing. Spouse Employment: Eliminates 2-year eligibility limitation (after PCS) for noncompetitive appointment of military spouses to federal civilian positions. Parental Leave: Authorizes up to 12 weeks of paid leave (including 6 weeks medical recuperation leave) for primary caregiver after childbirth; 21 days authorized for servicemember who is the secondary caregiver.

Survivor Benefits

Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance: Extends this allowance for SBP-DIC widows through May 2018 at the current $310 monthly rate (this will give us an opportunity to push Congress next year to increase and further extend the allowance, or eliminate the offset in its entirety). SBP for Reserve Components: Upgrades Survivor Benefit Plan formula for Reserve Component members who die while on inactive duty for training to equal SBP benefits for those who die on active duty.

TRICARE Benefits and Fees

There will be no changes to TFL. The bill rejects the Pentagon proposal to impose an annual TFL enrollment fee of up to 2 percent of military retired pay. Rejects a DoD proposal to roughly double TRICARE pharmacy copays over 10 years. Imposes significantly increased fees and copays only for those who will enter service on or after January 1, 2018. Grandfathers currently serving and currently retired members and families against most increases. EXCEPT current retirees and family members enrolled in TRICARE Standard (to be renamed TRICARE Select) will pay a new enrollment fee of $150/$300 (single/family) per year, starting in 2020 (NOTE: Chapter 61 (medical) retirees and survivors of members who died on active duty will be exempt from this enrollment fee). Establishes a new requirement for retired members and families (except TFL) to execute a formal annual enrollment in either TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select, starting in 2017 (IMPORTANT: this means they will have to physically sign a piece of paper to enroll; enrollment will be required for TRICARE coverage). Eliminates a requirement to get pre-authorization for urgent care, and requires all military medical facilities to maintain urgent care hours until 11 p.m. Authorizes DoD to provide hearing aids to family members of retirees at DoD cost. Authorizes a pilot program of offering commercial insurance coverage to Reserve component members and families on the same basis as federal civilians. Requires implementation of standard appointment system at all military facilities no later than Jan. 1, 2018, including issuance of appointment on first call and 24/7 online service availability. Authorizes retired members and families to participate in federal civilian dental and vision plan (the current retiree dental program will go away). Restores provider payments for treatment of autism to higher rates that were in effect before April 2016.

Military Health Care Reform

Places all military hospitals and clinics under the authority of the Defense Health Agency for purposes of budgeting, health care policy, and health care administration. Requires pilot program of value-based care, which would reimburse providers at higher rate for providing top-quality care and reduce or eliminate copays for high-value medications and medical services. Requires new TRICARE contracts to improve beneficiary access, improve medical outcomes, improve quality of care, enhance beneficiary experiences, and reduce DoD health care costs. By mid-2017, incorporate into annual performance review of all military and civilian health care leaders' measures of accountability for patient access to care, quality of care, improvement in health care outcomes, and patient safety. By January 2018, implement productivity standards (e.g., patients seen per day) for all providers in military treatment facilities (this is intended to improve patient access to timely care).

Other Matters

Includes a provision aimed at ensuring fair treatment for California Guardsmen who have been targeted for recoupment of incentive bonuses paid to them 10 years ago. Rejected the Senate's proposal mandating female Selective Service registration, and instead included a requirement to review the continuing need for Selective Service System registration and the potential for a national service program. Requires a DoD report on travel costs incurred by Reserve Component members.

House lawmakers approved the bill 375 to 34, and the Senate followed suit in a 92-7 vote. 


2017 Part B Premiums Announced

Medicare finally announced the 2017 Part B premiums.


70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries won't see much of a Medicare Part B premium increase next year. If you're paying $104.90 a month in 2016, you'll likely pay around $109 monthly next year. If you're paying more than that now, you'll probably see about another 10-percent hike for 2017.


The majority of beneficiaries won't see a large fee hike because of a “hold-harmless” law that caps most people's Part B premium increase at the dollar amount of the Social Security check cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).


But that protection doesn't apply for the following groups:

new Medicare enrollees in 2017 (who aren't “held harmless” because they never paid the lower premium); Medicare enrollees with incomes above $85,000 a year ($170,000 for a married couple), who already pay premiums higher than the basic $104.90; and people who are paying Medicare premiums but don't receive a Social Security check.


Not only are these groups not “held harmless,” but the law actually requires their premiums to be raised an extra amount to cover whatever total premium amount the held-harmless groups would have been paying if they hadn't been protected.


In other words, when a small or zero COLA triggers the hold-harmless provision, the three groups listed above end up having to pay their own premium hikes…and part of their neighbors', too.


Last year, the zero-COLA meant a 52-percent increase for beneficiaries not held harmless. MOAA members sent over 24,000 messages to the Hill, and Congress intervened to protect these groups from having to pay any share of other people's premiums.


This year, because there was at least a .3 percent COLA, the penalty for the non-held-harmless groups isn't quite as severe. Further, Medicare officials already announced they will use Medicare reserves to partially ease the extra premiums imposed on these groups.


The chart below shows the 2017 monthly premium rates just announced by Medicare. Premiums for individuals with incomes less than $85K/$170K (single/married) may vary a dollar or two, because your individual premium will be based on the size of the COLA in your personal Social Security check.


Because Medicare is using its reserves to ease increases on those not held-harmless, some think there won't be as much pressure on Congress to step in with more relief.


As a matter of principle, MOAA thinks it's wrong to make the groups already being asked to pay a larger share of their own Part B premiums to shoulder a share of someone else's, too.


That's why MOAA will be supporting relief legislation again this year. If successful, we estimate that would save the affected groups $8 to $15 per month ($16 to $30 for a married couple).

Never Stop Serving

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