The Washington Post, March 15, 2011
Among government workers, one group enjoys lifetime health benefits virtually unmatched in the United States: military retirees. As soaring medical costs have forced steep cuts to benefits offered by government and private plans, Tricare has grown more generous. The premiums are a fraction of those in the private sector, deductibles are low and co-pays limited. Premiums have not changed in 16 years. But Tricare's costs are exploding, projected in five years to hit $65 billion to insure 9.6 million people. Now, in the face of two wars and serious budget constraints, the Pentagon says it needs to charge higher fees. And with congressional hearings on Tricare opening Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates finds himself pitted against retired service members, one of Washington's most powerful and beloved constituencies. Gates has tried to boost Tricare premiums in three Pentagon budgets. He made the case to Congress that spiraling personnel and healthcare costs are "crippling" the military, as retirees receiving full pensions decline new health insurance when they go to work for private companies.