Among the differences in the House and Senate defense bills that will need to be reconciled are health care provisions that could affect mental health care, urgent care and pharmacy fees, among other things. The Senate version of the bill addresses Tricare beneficiaries' frequent emergency room visits by allowing four non-referred urgent care visits while the House bill urges better appointment time standards. Another key provision in the Senate's bill is an increase for Tricare prescription drug co-payments, while the House version opposes any increases in Tricare fees.
Starting next fall, Tricare beneficiaries who take name-brand medications for chronic conditions will need to fill their prescriptions at military treatment facilities or through Tricare's mail-order pharmacy system. Beneficiaries who use generic medications can continue to buy them at retail Tricare pharmacies, but they will pay more than they do currently.
The number of Tricare regions would decrease from three to two under a proposal released Monday by the Defense Health Agency. The proposal, which aims to cut costs and increase competition for health care contracts, would limit Tricare regions to East and West.
A compromise version of the 2013 defense authorization bill has several provisions aimed at meeting military health care needs and managing costs. Tricare participants would not have to pay increased enrollment fees, for example, but would see slight increases to pharmacy copayments, and future copay increases would be tied to cost-of-living adjustments given to military retirees. The bill would also increase access to mental health services for veterans and require the Defense Department to offer suicide prevention training via a program for reservists and National Guard members.
A number of House Armed Services Committee members face tough races, and the election may substantially change the makeup of the panel, this feature says. The committee could lose some specialized knowledge and possibly its bipartisan makeup.