The Washington Times - October 5, 2009, 10:21AM

While most of political Washington has been consumed with the debate over how to make health care more accessible to low-income Americans, the government unexpectedly raised rates by more than 20 percent on inpatient co-pays paid by retired military veterans and their families who have their health insurance provided by Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department announced the rate hike on September 30 and it went into effect on October 1, taking several military advocates by surprise. The increase raises prices for retirees and their family members from $535 a day to $645 a day, or 25 percent of billed charges, whichever is less. Once bills meet a $3,000 cap, however, the beneficiary will pay no more costs for that calendar year.

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Active duty solders will see a modest increase. Their fees are now $16.30 per day, up from $15.65.

The Military Officers Association of America sent letters to the House, the Senate and the Department of Defense protesting the rate increases. MOAA President Norbert Ryan’s letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said, “This is a shocking announcement that is extremely disappointing given your public assurances earlier this year that the Defense Department would not be proposing any TRICARE fee increases for FY2010.”

He went on, to say that veterans “believe, as we do, that the current $535 per day retiree inpatient copay is already far larger than inpatient co-pays under most civilian insurance plans. We don’t understand how a further 21% increase to $645 meets any standard of equity or reasonableness for the most seriously ill and injured beneficiaries to whom it would apply.”

A spokesman for the TRICARE Management Activity said TRICARE was required to raise fees unless Congress says otherwise, as it has in the past.

“For the previous two years Congress passed legislation to freeze these rates and this time they did not,” explained TRICARE management spokesman Austin Camacho.