After Gutting Civilian Health Insurance, Trump Now Has the Pentagon’s Tricare Program in the Crosshairs
After Trump took a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act and told Congress it can fix what’s left of it, he now has military healthcare in his crosshairs.
The Department of Defense just filed notice that it would look at all options regarding Tricare, the official healthcare provider for all of the U.S. armed forces and its beneficiaries, including repealing, replacing or modifying it.
Once again, the executive order Trump signed in February, titled “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” is being used as the reason to make changes. And as outlined in that document, the rationale given is to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens to the American people.” Like healthcare.
Tricare currently covers 9.4 million beneficiaries around the world, including active members of all the armed forces and Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserves and retirees and their families and survivors.
“It is ridiculous to suggest that one of the first ways we should seek to balance our federal budget is by asking service members, military retirees, and their family members to pay more for their healthcare,” wrote former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in defense of military healthcare in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 Report in May 2016.
Ayotte served in Congress from 2011 to 2017 and worked on the Senate Armed Service Committee. She helped the Trump White House get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court after she left office and had been a contender to replace James Comey as FBI Director.
Since Feb. 24, all federal agencies have been using that executive order to rationalize everything from gutting the Environmental Protection Agency to involuntary reassignments at the Department of the Interior. The language cited is so vague that it gives the agencies wide latitude. Here again, the Pentagon can either tweak Tricare or scrap it altogether, as the agency chooses.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act Report, Ayotte noted that people try to equate military with civilian healthcare noting that military healthcare is generous but that the comparison is “entirely inappropriate.” She wrote: “Military service is uniquely difficult, valuable and honorable and the sacrifices service members and their family members voluntarily endure cannot be compared to any other profession. For those reasons, it is appropriate for them to expect—and necessary for Congress to provide—healthcare that is both generous and top-notch.”
Tricare is managed by the Defense Health Agency, a smaller subagency within the Defense Department. Tricare currently offers six different plan options with several plans within those.
The agency has already made some sweeping changes to plans for 2018, merging three regional areas into two and changing from a fiscal-year plan to a calendar-year plan. Those kinds of changes can cause confusion during open enrollment periods. But at least the enrollment periods are being communicated.
The Pentagon is seeking public comment as it starts to make changes to Tricare. Because it is not directly related to President Barack Obama’s legacy, perhaps Team Trump will use a scalpel and not a sledgehammer if and when it makes changes.