As Tricare Select enrollment fees are set to increase, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, is urging the Pentagon to provide a 12-month grace period for veterans to ensure they don't lose health care during the pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of veterans will face new enrollment fees for Tricare Select beginning Jan. 1, 2021. That means about $150 more per year for individual coverage, or $300 annually for families, in accordance with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
If veterans don't pay the fees before Jan. 1, 2021, they risk losing coverage.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper this week, Tester argued that the risk to veterans during the coronavirus pandemic was too great.
"No military retiree or their loved ones should be at risk of losing their health care coverage and not receiving the care they need in the midst of this pandemic," he wrote. "By implementing a 12-month grace period, the Department can ensure that all military retirees and their families have adequate time and notice to meet the new Tricare Select requirements and maintain their health care coverage. Those who have selflessly served our nation deserve to have access to affordable, high-quality health care.”
Tester said it was unlikely he and his colleagues in Congress could move quickly enough to protect those veterans from the changes, with little time remaining on the legislative calendar before the end of the year and major legislation left undone, including the next NDAA and any additional COVID-19 relief.
"By contrast, there is ample time for DOD to take action, and it is within your authority to do so," Tester told Esper in the letter. "Implementing a grace period to pay new Tricare Select enrollment fees would also be in keeping with recent decisions by the department."
There were a total of 407,431 Tricare Select members, according to a 2019 Department of Defense report.
The new fees do not apply to active-duty service members or their families, military retirees who participate in the Tricare for Life, Tricare Prime, Tricare Reserve Select, Tricare Young Adult or Tricare Retired Reserve programs, or for veterans (and their families) who were medically retired from service with a disability rating for 30% or more, also known as Chapter 61 retirees.