Not surprisingly, working-age retirees and their families began leaving employer-paid plans and signing up for Tricare.
Congress did allow a modest increase in costs for working-age retirees to take effect last year and indexed that cost increase to inflation. But those costs are still far less than what an average civilian would pay for comparable employer-provided health insurance.
Once former military personnel turn 65, they are eligible for Medicare, like everyone else.
But in 2002, Congress gave them "Tricare for Life" - essentially, a free Medigap plan. Roughly 2 million people take advantage of this perk, at a projected cost to taxpayers of $9.7 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
On a per capita basis, Tricare for Life is the most expensive Tricare program of the Defense Department, Gregerson writes. Beneficiaries' utilization rate far exceeds that of the other Tricare programs' participants - no surprise, since Tricare for Life beneficiaries have zero incentive to conserve.
Obama's 2013 budget plan would have saved $12.8 billion over five years by gradually increasing the annual enrollment fees of Tricare's working-age retirees, with discounts for lower-income participants, and then indexing the fees to the rate of national growth in health spending.
The maximum fee would have quadrupled to $2,000 - still far cheaper than most civilian plans. The president also proposed adding an enrollment charge to Tricare for Life.
Congress would have none of it - then or, apparently, now. Neither the recently adopted Senate budget plan for fiscal 2014, drafted by Democrats, nor the supposedly "austere" Ryan budget passed by the Republican House, touched Tricare.
Hell hath no fury like a veterans' lobby scorned, as senators and representatives of both parties know.
So do I! In anticipation of a lot of hate mail, I would note that I respect and honor America's veterans. They should be well provided for, including reasonable health benefits.
But no one - not even a veteran - is entitled to taxpayer support regardless of competing public needs.
In the case of Tricare, this is what the veterans' lobbies have demanded of Congress, and what Congress has given them.
Lane is a member of editorial board of the Washington Post.