The House voted Thursday to prohibit the Defense Department from spending any money to implement an enrollment fee on Tricare for Life, the Tricare health plan for retirees age 65 and older.

The ban, passed by voice vote as an amendment to the 2013 defense appropriations bill, is not actually necessary to prevent a fee hike. Although the Defense Department has proposed a $200 annual fee for the health care benefit for Medicare-eligible military retirees and their families, Congress has not authorized the payment.

Both the House and Senate versions of the 2013 defense authorization bill omit the Pentagon’s plans for Tricare fee increases, making it unlikely — but not necessarily impossible — for the new enrollment fee to be charged.

That didn’t stop Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., from proposing, and the House from quickly accepting, an amendment that puts another stake in the heart of the Pentagon proposal.

“It is unconscionable that this administration seeks to raise health care costs on more than 9.3 million veterans and their families that are currently eligible for Tricare when there are other excesses that can surely be cut,” Stearns said.

The $608 billion defense appropriations bill passed the House on a 326-90 vote. The Senate has not yet started writing its version of the bill.

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, and the Florida department of Veterans of Foreign Wars supported Stearns effort.

Fang Wong, the Legion’s national commander, said his organization’s position is that Tricare fees should not be increased “before all efforts have been exhausted to remove waste, fraud and abuse from the Tricare program.”

While acknowledging the House and Senate armed services committees had both rejected the Tricare for Life enrollment fee, Wong said he doesn’t feel comforted.

The White House “has threatened a veto of the defense bill, in part because it does not include increased health care fees for members of the military,” he said. “As such, the threat of higher health care fees continues.”

While the White House’s Office of Management and Budget did issue a policy statement threatening to veto the defense authorization bill for several reasons, the Tricare fees were not among them.

Instead, the statement says the Obama administration is “very disappointed” the fee hikes are not included — but there is no threat of a presidential veto directly related to the health care fees.

The statement asks the House of Representatives “to reconsider the Tricare fee proposals, which are essential for DoD to successfully address rising personnel costs.”

Share This