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Washington Update for the week of April 4th, 2017

TREA Washington Update for Wednesday, April 5th 2017

 

Now that spring has finally arrived in Dc and the Spring/Easter break is pending all Congressional Committees are working at full capacity. It is a very interesting time. 

 

 

Commissaries Still at Risk – This Time From Declining Sales

 

Dentists Says that TRICARE Reimbursement Rate Changes Will Hurt Access

 

House Dems’ Veterans Roundtable focuses on Women Vet’s needs

 

Discounts for Major League Baseball Games

 

Same Mission -- Same Benefits

 

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Commissaries Still at Risk – This Time From Declining Sales

TREA has been warning about the threat to military commissaries for the past few years.  Some over-zealous members of Congress decided four or five years ago that commissaries cost too much and were a good place to cut the budget in their attempts to reduce federal spending.  Unfortunately, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was one of those, and since he’s been both Ranking Member and now Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has tremendous influence over the DoD budget.

TREA has been fighting for years to save the commissary benefit and so far, we’ve been successful.  However, some recent developments continue to place the benefit at risk.  One is the new effort by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) to try and run commissaries more like a for-profit business. 

DeCA had announced last fall that it will roll out its own private label, or "generic," brand. The plan is to put about 400 private-label items on shelves in early May under "Freedom's Choice" and "HomeBase" labels.  Adding those items to commissary shelves, however, means making space by eliminating some of the national brands currently stocked by the agency.

It also has announced that it will institute “variable pricing,” which means prices will vary in different parts of the country, depending on the cost of groceries in different areas.  Instead of selling groceries priced “at cost” from the supplier, variable pricing allows DeCA to mark up the prices on some items in order to make money to pay for some of the commissary system’s operations.  The variable pricing system allows officials to raise and lower prices at will, so long as shoppers continue to see a specific savings of between 17.6 percent and 44.2 percent, depending on region, over off-base grocery stores.

Initially, variable pricing will be tested at 10 different commissaries throughout the nation but we believe it will eventually become part of the way commissaries are operated.

Now, however, comes news that sales at commissaries between FY 2012 and FY2016 fell by 14 percent, and they continue to fall.  There appear to be numerous reasons for this.

First, there is more competition from “super stores” that sell lower priced groceries.  Second, half of all commissary shoppers are now retirees because there are fewer personnel in military and only 26 percent of those live on a base or post, meaning they are more likely to grocery shop off-base/post.  Third, in addition to fewer overall personnel in the military and fewer living on base or post, the number of those who are married is even smaller and single personnel are on meal plans at dining facilities and tend not to cook at home but rather they go out to eat.

Finally, other factors include the end of discounts on tobacco products; the reluctance to make small purchases because of having to use and to tip grocery baggers; the inconvenience of tightened security to access on-base stores; and the questioning of what the real savings at commissaries are in the wake of actions to transform the benefit and reduce taxpayer support.

TREA is working with our partners in the Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits and the office of Congressman Walter Jones (R- N.C.) on legislation to put in place needed protections to safeguard the commissary and our other valuable earned benefits.  We will keep you posted on this as additional information becomes available.   

 

 

Dentists Says that TRICARE Reimbursement Rate Changes Will Hurt Access

Military.com reported last week that dentists in several states are warning reimbursement rate decreases in the new Tricare dental contract will force providers to stop participating TRICARE. Dentists will then pass on higher out-of-pocket costs to active duty, Guard and Reserve dependents. Active duty military and activated Guard & Reservists will still get their dental work done by military dentists.

The $2.9 billion Tricare Dental Plan (TDP) contract for the families of active-duty, Guard and reserve troops is set to move from MetLife to United Concordia on May 1. There are roughly 1.8 million dependent beneficiaries enrolled in the program. Military retirees will not be impacted by the new contract.

Although the change comes with several expansions to care for users, including an increased yearly cost cap and lower premiums, it also includes a decrease to the in-network rates paid to dentists for their services.

That decrease, dentists told Military.com, in many cases will leave providers paying more to administer services than they will be reimbursed. The change, they said, will force many of them out of network and, in turn, increase the amount each Tricare user must pay out of pocket if they want to remain with their current provider.

United Concordia reimbursement rates are based on region. Company officials declined to provide rate examples to Military.com, saying they are proprietary information.

 

For more information, go to: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/03/30/dentists-warn-new-tricare-rates-will-cause-drop-in-providers.html

 

House Dems’ Veterans Roundtable focuses on Women Vet’s needs 

Last week House of Representative’s Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) hosted their quarterly Roundtable on U.S. Veterans issues. Numerous members of the Democratic Caucus were there.  Approximately 20 VSO’s were invited. TREA was represented by our Washington Office’s Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman. Presumably because of numerous issues concerning women in the military recently in the press (ex: the FACEBOOK page with nude pictures of women Marines) and the fact that March was Women’s History month the focus was on women veterans.

It was noted that women is the fastest growing group of America veterans but the VA has not adapted their medical practice to include enough women medical specialist. It was also stated that the VA does not provide enough child care so that women (and indeed men veterans) can go to their medical appointments. There were numerous other suggestions for improvements in the VA for all veterans including focusing on accountability for the quality of work of VA employees. Speaking to these House members (As well as talking to members on the other side of the aisle on this issue) it is clear that they want to sponsor new bills and promote new ideas that would help our women veterans. If you have an idea that you would like to propose please e-mail me at dholleman@treadc.org with it. Please include your phone number so we can discuss it.

 

 

Discounts for Major League Baseball Games

As the 2017 baseball season kicks off this week several major league teams have announced they’ll be providing discounted game tickets to present and past members of the military.  For more information click on this link to see if your favorite team is listed.  Even if it’s not you should check the team’s website to see if they have discounts for military members.

http://www.military.com/discounts/military-discounts-for-major-league-baseball-games.html?ESRC=eb_170331.nl

 

 

Same Mission -- Same Benefits

 

TREA is supporting new bi-partisan, bi-cameral legislation that will ensure that military personnel doing the same mission get the same benefits. 

 

HR 1384, the ‘‘Reserve Component Benefits Parity Act,” has been introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Steve Palazzo (R- Miss.) and its companion legislation, S.667 in the Senate by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Al Franken (D-Minn.)

 

This legislation would ensure that members of the Reserve Components who are ordered to serve on active duty under section 12304a and 12304b of title 10, United States Code, are treated the same as others who are mobilized to serve on active duty under other types of orders.  The measures cover eligibility for health care benefits and for retirement age reduction, education, as well as vocational training and pay differentials.

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