Veterans TRICARE Choice Act of 2016

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 29, 2016
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

While we are here today to debate H.R. 5458, which focuses on one small part of the transition for veterans completing their service and entering the civilian workforce, I wish to take a moment to reflect on a broader issue.

While many veterans enter the workforce, and some may even be offered a health savings account as part of their insurance coverage, many millions depend on Medicare and Medicaid. Now, we in the Congress can't forget the role these programs play in caring for our veterans and their loved ones as they return to the workforce, as they age, or as they live with disabilities.

For more than four decades, Medicare and Medicaid have helped Americans from all walks of life by improving their financial and health security; but if you have been paying attention to the news lately, you know these programs are under grave risk next year with a new Congress and a new President.

As we speak today to honor veterans' service to our country, we must also think about the safety net that has been in place for many years to offer security. For example, today, nearly 1 in 10 veterans lacks health insurance at all. More than 340,000 uninsured veterans and their spouses live in States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid to cover more residents. If those States offered coverage, these veterans would have insurance if we really cared about them--but their Governors apparently don't.

In Florida, more than 55,000 veterans and their spouses would be Medicaid eligible had the State chosen to cover individuals earning less than $21,000 a year. In North Carolina, 32,000 veterans and their spouses, and in Texas 67,000 veterans and their spouses would be eligible. But their Governors saw fit not to care.

Slashing Medicare funding by more than $1 trillion, as Speaker Ryan has proposed, is not a way to help veterans. Yet that is what will be in store next year. That is what people are talking about as what we are going to do in the new year. Turning Medicare into a capped voucher, privatizing the program, shifting more costs on beneficiaries, won't help either.

Now back to the bill at hand. For veterans who are receiving coverage through TRICARE, using employer coverage that offers health savings accounts coupled with high-deductible health plans can cause a problem.
Under present law, eligibility for TRICARE coverage disqualifies a retiree from HSA eligibility because the TRICARE program is not a high- deductible plan. This, I believe, is a good thing, and it keeps health care affordable for veterans, especially those who do not have the option for other coverage.

While there is a difference of opinion in the committee on tax- preferred health accounts, the legislation recognizes that some veterans may have that coverage and could run afoul of current law because of enrollment in TRICARE. H.R. 5458 would provide that military retirees may disclaim their eligibility for the TRICARE program. This would allow a retiree who enrolled in a high-deductible health plan to receive or make HSA contributions.

When we considered this bill in the Committee on Ways and Means, the Department of Defense as well as the House Committee on Armed Services had some concerns with the approach in this bill, in particular, that TRICARE eligibility is a statutory entitlement that cannot be waived.

If the NDAA conference language is passed later this week, this legislation will no longer be needed as TRICARE enrollment will be voluntary and retirees can move between employer-sponsored insurance and TRICARE, depending on which coverage is best for their current needs. In other words, this bill is going to last about 3 days, until we pass the NDAA on Friday and it is signed into law.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, this bill is one of those things that you fill time with, and I guess it is not going to hurt anything. So I would recommend that all of my colleagues vote for it. It will be moot on Friday, when we pass the NDAA.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. SMITH of Nebraska. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to again thank Mr. Stewart for his efforts. This is a good bill that, as the gentlewoman from Hawaii mentioned, will help many folks--certainly, those that she has heard from and I know others have as well. I support more veterans having more options. I support the bill's passage and urge my colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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