WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is proposing an increase in insurance health care premiums for military retirees and their families to ease federal budget problems, but some veterans' groups are challenging that saying low payments are justified given the dangerous call-to-duty their members have answered.
An increase in the $230 annual individual premium — the first in the plan's 15-year history — might mean an uncomfortable adjustment for more than 50,000 veterans living in Maryland.
Rick Jones, legislative director for the National Association for Uniformed Services, said those first in line to serve should not be first in line to pay for health care services. "Maryland veterans have already been on the front lines," said Jones. "Certainly, we could find other areas to (raise fees), rather than taking it from those who secure our freedom."
Known as Tricare Prime, health insurance for military retirees costs individuals $230 and families $460 each year, according to the company's website. It is available in the United States to all beneficiaries ineligible for Medicare benefits. Enrollees are assigned primary care managers either at a military treatment facility or from the Tricare network.
The Pentagon seeks to increase Tricare Prime premiums in an effort to rein in costs projected to top-off at $65 billion in less than 10 years. Tricare Prime rates would rise 6.2 percent.
The Department of Defense has presented a formal request to lawmakers for higher Tricare fees as part of the president's fiscal year 2012 budget. The increase fits into a larger plan introduced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to trim the military health system's budget by $7 billion in the next five years.
The U.S. Department of Defense recorded 51,258 retired military personnel living in Maryland in 2009, according to Census.gov. Approximately 3,839 of them were disabled.
Deidre Parke Holleman, executive director of the Washington office of The Retired Enlisted Association, said this health care hike would hammer Maryland veterans especially hard.
"Maryland, along with Virginia, Florida, Texas and Maine, has one of the highest percentages of military retirees," Holleman said. "With such a huge population of retirees, the hit would be dramatic."
Holleman said the proposed premium increase of 6.2 percent would sharply bite into retired military pay.
"Retired pay is a package, a moral contract relied upon," she said. "If you serve 20 or more years in the military and have done the dangerous job of protecting us, (you should receive a generous health insurance package). An increase would eat this away."