Military retirees who are eligible for Medicare are seeking their military healthcare benefits back and a refund from Medicare in a class-action federal lawsuit.
The suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., accuses the U.S. Defense Department of breaking its promise of lifetime free medical care to veterans by weaning them off their military healthcare insurance plan and placing them on Medicare.
Defense Department policy bars aging military veterans from enrolling in the department's Tricare managed-care plans when they become eligible for Medicare. The policy also limits veterans' use of military hospitals when the veterans become Medicare-eligible.
About 1.1 million military retirees are eligible for Medicare. The denial of military healthcare benefits to aging veterans drove efforts to pass federal legislation allowing a demonstration project under which Medicare would pay a share of Tricare plan premiums for some veterans.
The project has sparked concerns among healthcare providers who fear that it would speed depletion of the dwindling Medicare trust fund.
Retired Air Force Col. George Day, a lawyer who won the Congressional Medal of Honor and was a former prisoner of war, filed the lawsuit on behalf of all Medicare-eligible veterans.
In addition to claiming that the Defense Department broke its promise of free lifetime care, the lawsuit also claims the federal government violated constitutional guarantees against illegal searches and seizures when it deducted Medicare taxes from military pay and Social Security benefits.
The plaintiff wants the court to order the government to stop deducting Medicare taxes from the retirement pay and Social Security checks of the plaintiffs and return any past contributions to the Medicare trust fund.
HCFA officials referred calls to the U.S. Justice Department, which said it is preparing a response to the lawsuit by a Dec. 16 deadline. Defense Department officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.