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2013 defense bill has good news for troops

Dec. 18, 2012 - 06:10PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 18, 2012 - 06:10PM  |  
A final vote on the compromise National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 could come as early as Thursday in the House of Representatives, and by Friday in the Senate, sending the measure on for President Obama's signature.
A final vote on the compromise National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 could come as early as Thursday in the House of Representatives, and by Friday in the Senate, sending the measure on for President Obama's signature. (Munir Uz Zaman / AFP via Getty Images)
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The 2013 defense policy bill approved Tuesday by congressional negotiators has mostly good news for service members, blunting Defense Department efforts to raise Tricare drug co-pays and neutering a proposed commission to recommend the reform of compensation and retired pay.

A final vote on the compromise National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 could come as early as Thursday in the House of Representatives, and by Friday in the Senate, sending the measure on for President Obama's signature.

The $633.3 billion bill, covering the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, includes some landmark personnel changes, including having the government pay for abortions for service women in cases of rape and incest, and strengthening criminal investigations and prosecution for rape and sexual assault. It also tries to balance policies related to gays in the military.

Same-sex marriages will be allowed on any military base located in a state where such a marriage is legal, but a military chaplain cannot be required to take part. Chaplains and other service members are allowed to hold beliefs that homosexuality is wrong, but will not be allowed to disrupt good order and discipline through speech or actions, according to aides who worked on the final bill.

Missing from the final bill is Stolen Valor Act legislation that would allow criminal charges to be brought against anyone who profits, directly or indirectly, from lying about military service or military medals received for valor. House and Senate negotiators were unable to reach agreement on details of exactly what acts should be a crime and how to punish the acts, aides said.

The House and Senate agreed earlier this year to block Tricare health insurance fee hikes proposed by the Defense Department, limiting future increases to no more than the cost-of-living adjustment in military retired pay. But they had not resolved questions about the dramatic increases Pentagon officials sought in co-pays for drugs received from retail and mail-order pharmacies.

A compromise allows fee increases that are much less than the Defense Department wanted.

Under the compromise, mail-order prescriptions for a 90-day supply would be free for generics, $13 for brand-name drugs and $44 for drugs not on the approved list, known as non-formulary drugs. At retail pharmacies, a 30-day supply of drugs would be $5 for generic, $17 for brand name and $44 for non-formulary drugs. These co-pays will be allowed to increase by no more than the retirement COLA each year.

The Defense Department wanted retail brand-name drugs to be $26, and increase by about $2 a year, and would not have covered non-formulary drugs at retail pharmacies without a case-by-case review. For mail order, the Pentagon proposed free generics, $26 for brand names and $51 for non-formulary drugs, with the same $2 to $3 a year increase proposed for retail pharmacy co-pays.

One group of retirees, though, will be forced to use mail-order pharmacies. Medicare-eligible retirees using the Tricare for Life program will be required to get maintenance drugs through a mail-order pharmacy, aides said.

Because of political reluctance to cut military pay and benefits, the Defense Department proposes having an independent commission study ways to reform military retired pay to save money and to update a system that currently benefits only those who complete 20 years of service. To overcome opposition to the recommendations, the Pentagon proposed a fast-track legislative process, similar to that used in the base closing process, so that Congress could vote only for or against the recommendations, without the ability to make any alterations.

Negotiators approved the commission, but removed the fast-track legislative provisions — so the end result could be nothing more than another study that gets ignored.

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