Stars and Stripes: Sen. Tester urges Pentagon to halt new Tricare fees that are set to rise soon for many military families

by Steve Beynon

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is urging Defense Secretary Mark Esper to hold off on implementing new Tricare enrollment fees for a year to give military families some economic relief amid the coronavirus pandemic and so they can become informed about the new charges.

“The [coronavirus] pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on the health and economy of our nation,” Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote Monday in a letter to Esper. “By implementing a 12-month grace period, the [Defense Department] can ensure that all military retirees and their families have adequate time and notice to meet the new Tricare Select requirements and maintain their health care coverage.”

On Jan. 1, Tricare Select Group A retirees will be required to pay new fees. An individual’s monthly enrollment fee will be $12.50, or $150 annually.

Monthly family fees will be $25, or $300 annually. There are 407,431 beneficiaries of Tricare Select, according to 2019 data from the Defense Department. The new fees were mandated by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act’s reorganization of Tricare, the health care program for service members, retirees and their families.

Any service member who joined the military before Jan. 1, 2018 is in Select Group A. Select Group B are those who enlisted or commissioned after Jan. 1, 2018, and have already been paying enrollment fees. The Defense Health Agency, which oversees health care for the military, said there are no changes to Group B.

It is unclear whether all Tricare beneficiaries who would be impacted by the new fees have been notified. But Tester wrote he is concerned some veterans and their families might be caught off guard with surprise costs in the middle of a pandemic, which has already crippled the economy.

“Inevitably, some veterans and their families only learn about a new requirement when they try to access needed health care and find out they no longer have coverage,” Tester wrote to Esper. “Even now, the official Tricare website emphasizes that military retirees who want to stay in their current plan don’t have to take any action, which may be confusing to those Group A retirees who must pay the new enrollment fee to maintain their Tricare Select coverage.”

Beneficiaries will need to contact their Tricare regional contractors and set up their enrollment payments. The Tricare regions are: Humana Military in the eastern United States, HealthNet Federal Services in the west, and International SOS Government Services overseas.

“In order to maintain health coverage unless waived by law, Tricare Select Group A retired beneficiaries must take action and pay their Tricare Select enrollment fees,” according to a statement from the Defense Health Agency.

However, enrollment fees are waived for Chapter 61 retirees, their family and survivors of deceased service members. Chapter 61 refers to veterans who were medically retired from military service with a rated disability of 30% or greater, according to the Army’s Human Resources Command.