Bill would freeze Tricare fees for retirees

Edwards, an ally of President Barack Obama who had been discussed as a possible vice presidential running mate, is chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for military quality of life programs and veterans health care. Overcoming Edwards’ opposition would be difficult.

Additionally, Edwards’ move to drop a bill even before the Obama administration has announced its plans for military health care is a warning sign to the White House and Defense Department that it might be a mistake to assume that Tricare fee increases could be used to help cover health care costs in the 2010 defense budget.

For three consecutive years, the Defense Department has asked Congress to increase Tricare fees for retirees and to revise pharmacy copayments for active-duty families and retirees in order to reduce costs. Congress has rejected the idea every time.

Defense officials estimate fee increases would cut $1.6 billion in defense health care costs, partly from the fees and partly from discouraging working-age retirees who have other health care options from enrolling in the military health benefits plan.

Edwards, who estimates that higher fees would apply to 3 million people, made clear that discouraging the Obama administration is part of his strategy. “I hope the new administration will not request the same premium increases as the last, but this legislation will allow us to remove any temptation,” he said in a statement.

“I believe that keeping our promise of quality, affordable health care for military retirees is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” Edwards said. “It is right because our nation has a moral obligation to keep our promises to those who have kept their promise to defend our nation. It is the smart thing to do because we cannot attract the best and brightest to fight our war on terrorism in the years ahead if they see us breaking faith with those who served in years past. To win the war on terrorism, we must keep faith with our warriors.”

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., is an original cosponsor of the bill, which last year had more than 215 cosponsors.

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