I can't tell you how disheartened I was to read last night that President Obama was willing to put any part of Tricare on the table of cuts. The title of this piece is taken directly from Bob Woodward's description of a grand bargain between the White House and Speaker Boehner. But Bob Woodward doesn't understand that military folks gave up a long time ago on any of their benefits being sacred.
Over 20 years ago, I watched my Dad lose free health care for both him and my mom. I saw military retirees angry with the government, especially at Congress, for making promises they had no intent to keep. I watched as a court case determined that Congress actually didn't make a promise, that recruiters lied and mislead, and that retirees were shit out of luck. Sacred went out the window and it did so under a Democratic President. Is history about to repeat itself?
I've heard fellow Americans say it's no big deal. The increased costs to retirees were minor back then, especially when you see how much other Americans pay to get their health coverage today, if they can afford to pay at all. It's a divide and conquer system where Congress uses the anger of those living without as a wedge to make incremental changes to systems that essentially can work but are tied by excess regulation and are run by people who essentially want government to fail at their job. Instead of truly fixing the system, they would prefer to see it limp along poorly so that more Americans learn that government can't manage and would be better off out of the health care business.
Below the fold, I'm going to introduce you to TRICARE and tell you how important it really is. But before I do that, I need you to know one thing. Our Government can fix all health care problems once and for all by tackling the issue at hand - health care costs are driven by a broken system and the system itself needs fixing. Not part of it but all of it. Until that time, tinkering with pieces and parts only enables a broken system to survive but never allows it to thrive. In the words of one of my military doctors, "We just need to simply put all government health care under one chain of command. The VA, Medicare, and Tricare should all be one program. We could save millions." I will take her idea one step further - let's just get all health care under one plan and start saving those millions, possibly trillions, today. Then we won't need to talk about screwing our military retirees at all.
Looks like my husband and I get to repeat the retiree scare of the 1990's. When he joined the Air Force over 22 years ago, we were under the expectation that part of his retirement package would include free health care for himself and for me. As 20 somethings, this wasn't a big deal but it certainly was a part of the big picture, especially for me. My husband is driven by his desire to serve the public, like almost every military service member. If he was asked to give up something for his country, his answer would most likely be yes. Even his health care. That is why it is so important that spouses like myself speak up. We're often a little more practical about the day to day living. We manage the money, especially when our active duty members are deployed or just too damn busy at work to make it home. We fret about not putting savings into a home or, if we're fortunate enough to live in a place long enough to own a home, we fret about our ability to sell it or rent it when it's time to leave. We worry about the rising cost of college and wonder if that GI Bill split between the two kids will be enough to see us through their combined 8 years of university education. We spouses know that health care is expensive and we believed that a part of putting up with military was paid back in the benefit of having a free system we could rely on. Then, we felt lucky we could rely on a system that was affordable. Today, I don't feel lucky. I feel scared.
At 45 years old I recently had the biggest scare of my health care life. This last summer I suffered a bout of something called optic neuritis. I thought I was going blind in one eye. And then I found out that it is increased my risk of being diagnosed with MS. So far, I've been clear of that diagnosis and we hope that the tests continue to show a healthy woman who just had a case of ideopathic optic neuritis (basically a case that has no explanation). I won't go into all the details but I will tell you that the care I have received in our military system has been fantastic. Being stationed near Washington DC has made such a difference as I have had access to a top notch Opthamologist and Neurologist as well as a great Primary Care Physician, all military doctors. My care is paid for 100%. That will change the day my husband retires. Currently, we can turn to Tricare For Life, the plan for retirees that allows them to continue using the military health care system. But it increasingly looks like that plan is going to be taken away by the Obama Administration. Part of it will happen without any help from Congress. Retirees using
Tricare for Life Tricare Prime will be transferred to a program called Tricare Standard. While it allows its enrollees to use any doctor, it also charges co-pays for each and every visit. For someone like me, seeing multiple doctors of multiple specialities, those visits are going to add up. Add in the MRI's, the CT scans, and possibly the costs of medications (currently I am medication free, thank goodness), and it won't be cheap. Basically, the Administration will just transfer the cost of health care from the government to the military retiree or spouse.
Then we have a greater fear - what happens when Congress sits down with an Administration that is already willing to make these cuts? We know when Democrats sit down at the bargaining table with a stance that has already moved to the right that it is impossible to move to the left. It does not happen. And Bob Woodward released documents on Meet the Press yesterday that list both TRICARE for Life and and TRICARE drug copayments as areas worthy of cutting in a grand bargain between the White House and our Republican House of Representatives. We can hope that making cuts to TRICARE Prime, the program used by the vast majority of active duty families, is not on the chopping board at all but there are no guarantees.
This topic needs to be discussed far and wide and not just among military community members. If we as a nation cannot live up to the promises we have made the men and women in uniform, what does that say about us as a nation? Let's move this attempt to save money to the arena where it belongs - in the broader conversation about health care in the entire United States and quit trying to fix the broken system on the backs of those who served. Please talk about this with your friends, family, and neighbors. Please call your Congressman and let them know this is untenable. Please write or call President Obama and remind him that making these kind of austerity cuts are the wrong way to ultimately fix our broken economy.
Please, just call.