Why TRICARE Matters

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This week’s Washington Outlook column (subscription required) takes a look at one of the key pressures on defense procurement – the Pentagon’s budget for personnel. Todd Harrison, a budget analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, linked up with a firm that analyzes corporate benefits to study whether members of the military would mind trading up some of the benefits that lawmakers and generals cling to.

Harrison plans to discuss the full report, “Rebalancing Military Compensation: An Evidence-Based Approach,” at 9 a.m. July 12 at the National Press Club. Harrison worked with TrueChoice Solutions, which analyzes top companies' compensation options, on a voluntary survey of 2,600 members of the military.

Rather than asking yes-or-no questions, the survey allowed respondents to reply on a sliding scale. It also presented choices, asking whether they would prefer a 5% increase in basic pay or to pay more for healthcare. And Harrison says the survey found that members of the military do not value the low fees that they pay for Tricare. The findings suggest, he said, that the Pentagon could increase Tricare fees and raise basic pay in a way that could save the military money and please the force.

The Obama administration has proposed charging for Tricare for Life. Congress has been resistant to the idea, but the study indicates that military personnel might not mind such changes.

Harrison suggests that lawmakers require the Pentagon to undertake a more complete study of the force's opinions about pay and benefits—and create a database that could track preferences about benefits with retention figures and performance. “That would add a whole level of data to it that would be really invaluable,” he says.

The findings might help the Pentagon improve the overall value for how it compensates servicemembers. “We're not getting good value,” says Harrison.

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