A military built for fighting wars is looking more and more like a health care entitlement program.
Costs of the program that provides health coverage to some 10 million active duty personnel, retirees, reservists and their families have jumped from $19 billion in 2001 to $53 billion in the Pentagon's latest budget request.
Desperate to cut spending in Washington's time of fiscal austerity, President Barack Obama has proposed increasing the fees for working-age retirees in the decades-old health program, known as TRICARE. After years of resisting proposed increases for the military men and women who sacrificed for a nation, budget-conscious lawmakers suddenly are poised to make them pay a bit more for their health care, though not on the president's terms.
The current fees, unchanged in 11 years, are $230 a year for an individual and $460 for a family. That's far less than what civilian federal workers pay for health care, about $5,000 a year, and what most other people in the U.S. pay.
Obama is seeking a fee increase of $2.50 per month for an individual and $5 per month for families, which approaches the current price of a gallon of gasoline. Future increases starting in 2013 would be pegged to rising costs as measured by the national health care expenditure index produced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which projects 6.2 percent growth.