Representatives and government agency spokesmen say statements made by Rep. Brian Bilbray indicating Tricare has moved into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are misleading.
The Republican congressman from Carlsbad gave interviews to local television and radio stations following the health care reform debate indicating that Tricare, the military health care program, relocated out of its Department of Defense home as part of the new policy that consolidated health care programs.
But Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) and chairwoman of the military personnel subcommittee that has jurisdiction over Tricare, says Tricare was not affected by the changes. She maintains that the reform bill never was, and never will be, intended to move Tricare.
“The rumors are not based on anything that ever was nor will be proposed,” she said. “That the way that Tricare is structured meets the minimum requirements – that was the only thing that was of any consideration as we move forward.
“I think if information gets out to our military that is incorrect or even purposeful … it’s not acceptable.”
A spokesman for Tricare also denied any move of the program.
“Tricare is a DoD agency, and I’m quite sure it will stay that way,” said Austin Camacho, a Tricare spokesman, explaining that with 9.6 million active duty and veteran service members and their families covered by Tricare, the program belongs only in the Department of Defense.
Bilbray argues that because the reform bill does not explicitly state that Tricare is exempt from the consolidation efforts, it is lumped into HHS with the other health care programs.
“If you read the legislation that passed, it does not (set conditions for) which health care services are going to be put under HHS,” Bilbray said. “It says health care services in this country (are) under one department.”
During an interview with San Diego 6 News that is posted to Bilbray’s YouTube channel, he said:
“This bill moves Tricare health care out of the armed services -- the Defense Department -- over to the HHS, which is the welfare department. So now, military benefits are going to be treated as if they’re welfare, rather than military earned benefits.”
But Nicholas Papas, a spokesman for HHS, said Tricare beneficiaries do not need to worry about any changes.
“Those who depend on Tricare should rest assured -- Tricare will not change under health insurance reform,” he said. “President Obama stands firm in his commitment to veterans, and that is why he has provided an historic increase in benefits for our veterans and has upheld every pledge to protect the benefits veterans have earned in service to our nation.”
Regardless of where Tricare falls today, some still have concerns about the program’s future.
A spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), a member of the House armed services committee, said that while there has been no indication that this administration plans to move Tricare, the bill does not explicitly keep the program out of HHS in the future.
“There’s no current push that would incorporate Tricare into the program,” said Hunter’s spokesman Joe Kasper.
“We don’t put it past any leadership that might control Congress in the coming years to push it into other systems,” he said.
On Saturday, the House unanimously passed legislation introduced by Rep. Ike Skelton specifying that Tricare meets the minimum requirements of the reform measures to avoid unintended consequences to the program that provides earned benefits to military service members. The bill has been read in the Senate and passed to the finance committee.
Another bill, HR 4894, introduced Saturday by Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer, aims to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to further clarify that Tricare is not to be affected by new policies.
The bill has 30 co-sponsors, including Bilbray and Hunter, according to documents available through the Library of Congress. It has been referred to the House Energy and Finance Committee.
Bilbray and Kasper said these two bills indicate that clarification is needed to protect Tricare.
Not everyone agrees.
Five House committee chairmen sent a letter Sunday to the chairwoman of the Committee on Rules stating their review found the intent of reform “never was to undermine or change the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs operation of their health care programs or interfere with the care that our service members receive under Tricare.”
Davis said she understands the need for the first bill to reintroduce language used in previous House versions of the bill to formally identify Tricare as compliant with reform measures.
But she said the second bill is unnecessary and implies that Tricare might have been subject to the new rules -- something she denies ever was a possibility.
“I think because of what happened over on the Senate side, and (because) they were not able to conference that language in as the House bill had done, I understand why we needed to clarify that,” she said. “But in this case, it’s not as if it were anywhere or anyone tried to clarify it.
“It’s a non-issue (that) I think has been made into an issue.”
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