Bush drug proposal enrages veterans
Bush drug proposal enrages veterans
Sat Jan 3 16:08:24 2004

Jan. 1, 2004, 9:12PM
Bush drug proposal enrages veterans
Plan may alienate military retirees by imposing higher fees for prescriptions
Copyright 2004 The Virginian-Pilot

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is considering dramatic increases in the fees military retirees pay for prescription drugs, a step that would roll back a benefit extended 33 months ago and risk alienating an important Republican constituency at the dawn of the 2004 campaign season.

Pentagon budget documents indicate that retirees may be asked to pay $10 -- up from $3 -- for each 90-day generic prescription filled by mail through Tricare, the military's health insurance program. Tricare's current $9 co-pay for a three-month supply of each brand-name drug would jump to $20.

The proposal also would impose charges for drugs the retirees now receive free at military hospitals and clinics. There would be a $10 fee for each generic prescription and a $20 charge for brand-name drugs dispensed at those facilities.

A Pentagon spokesman declined Wednesday to comment on the drug plan, calling it "pre-decisional." But word of the proposal was being spread at the speed of light by veterans service organizations, who were urging their thousands of members to send calls and letters of protest to the White House and members of Congress.

"It's something that we're going to look at very closely when we return," said Tom Gordy, chief of staff for Rep. Ed Schrock, R-Va. The House is to reconvene Jan. 20.

"You're tampering with a benefit that was earned by people putting their lives on the line," said James F. Lokovic, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and deputy director of the Air Force Sergeants Association.

Lokovic's 136,000-member association already has sent Bush a letter warning of "significant backlash from millions of retired military voters" if the plan is included in the 2005 defense budget the administration will unveil in a few weeks.

"Somebody just isn't paying attention," the Military Officers Association of America said in "special alert" sent to its 390,000 members. "The war on terrorism is reminding the nation of servicemembers' sacrifices every night on the evening news ... and yet the administration seems to continue going out of its way to penalize the military community."

The officers association alert and an Internet site run by the sergeants association recall attempts by the administration to impose a $1,200 deductible for care provided to most military retirees at Veterans Affairs hospitals and the Pentagon's long-running opposition to bills providing for "concurrent receipt" of military pension and VA disability payments.

Bush and lawmakers agreed earlier this year on a concurrent receipt plan, a move widely seen as an attempt to shore up support for Republicans among military-minded voters. Military veterans and retirees are seen as providing Bush with his 2000 margin of victory in several key states, including Florida.

The budget documents circulating Wednesday gave no hint of the current status of the plan or the thinking behind it. Military retirees -- those who served 20 years or more -- had no prescription drug coverage until April 2001.

But the documents indicate that the proposed charges would considerably ease the burden of prescription drug costs on the defense budget. The new co-pays would generate more than $728 million in 2005, the Pentagon estimated, and nearly $4.2 billion by the end of 2009.

The proposed fees also would bring the military's co-pays into line with those imposed by the VA, the documents assert.

But spokesmen for veterans groups said the VA fills prescriptions for service-related illnesses and injuries at no charge. Its $7 co-pay applies only for medications given to outpatients for ailments unrelated to their service. And even those prescriptions are free when the veteran receiving them has an annual income of less than $9,690 if single and $12,692 if married.

As a disabled Vet.... I now have bill for $585.00 meds... I have to take from my hart operation (VA Hosp.) .... I can not pay,
so they said they are going take the money out of my little
disability income.....
USN 14 years service with 3 Honorable discharges....


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