FRA NewsBytes – 6-14-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition:
Defense Authorization Advances in House and Senate
VA Reports Reduction in Claims Backlog
UnitedHealth Switches Leaders for TRICARE West Region Contract
Flag Code Available Online

Defense Authorization Advances in House and Senate

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its version of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week. With the Exception of sexual assault provisions, all other deliberations were in closed session. The Committee rejected the Administration’s request for new TRICARE-for-Life and TRICARE Standard enrollment fees and a drastic increase in TRICARE Prime enrollment fee and pharmacy co-pays.

The Committee did, however, approve the Administration’s request for only a one-percent military pay increase. The Committee also rejected a Personnel Subcommittee-approved provision to remove commanders of the legal authority to oversee major criminal cases, including sexual assault. Oversight authority would also shift to uniform prosecutors.

The still unnumbered bill also:

  •    reduces overall military end strength by more than 40,000, including a 7,100 reduction in Marine Corps manpower (The Navy’s manpower would increase by 900);
  •    allows retirees that participate in the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to designate that benefits go into a Special Needs Trust (SNT) for disabled dependent children;
  •    mandates that the Department of Justice will enforce the Military Lending Act; and
  •    provides $25 million in Impact Aid for public schools impacted by military population.

    As Newsbytes is being finalized, the full House of Representatives is continuing debate on 172 floor amendments to its version of the FY 2014 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1960), which is on track to be approved later today.

    Once both chambers approve their respective versions of the NDAA, a conference committee will be appointed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills. The House and Senate versions of the NDAA do not account for FY 2014 sequestration cuts of $52 billion, if alternative spending cuts are not approved prior to September 30, 2013.

    VA Reports Reduction in Claims Backlog
    During a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) hearing this week Thomas Murphy, director of compensation service for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) announced that the VA has reached a “tipping point” in its struggle to reduce the massive disability claims backlog. The backlog has been reduced from 866,000 to 816,000 since January 2013. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vowed to reduce disability claim processing to no longer than 125 days for adjudication with 98 percent accuracy rate by the end of 2015.

    In related news the House passed the FY 2014 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (H.R. 2216) that provides $155 million to implement a paperless claims process system (Veterans Benefits Management System-VBMS), and funding for 94 more claims processors.

    UnitedHealth Switches Leaders for TRICARE West Region Contract
    Bloomberg News Service is reporting that UnitedHealth Group Inc., has changed the leadership of a division in charge the TRICARE West region.  The switch follows complaints from the Defense Department (DoD) and beneficiaries that UnitedHealth’s poor performance had led to delays in obtaining medical care. The company assumed responsibility for the contract on April 1 and Tina Jonas, a former Pentagon comptroller, has been appointed as the unit’s president and has “all operational responsibilities” for the division. Jonas previously served as president of a separate unit of UnitedHealth.

    The delays affected members of the program’s TRICARE Prime plan in the West Region, which has 1.6 million beneficiaries in the 21 states served by UnitedHealth. Due to long delays TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) has allowed a waiver that suspends the requirement that all referrals be approved by United Healthcare before the beneficiary could obtain specialty care. This waiver was reported in May 24, 2013 Newsbytes, and continues until June 18, 2013.

    Flag Code Available Online
    Today is Flag Day and with Independence Day fast approaching it is important to display the flag appropriately. Information on appropriate handling and displaying of the U.S. flag can be accessed at http://www.usflag.org/uscode36.html#36