Rising drug costs influence national debate over military spending

In most budget years congressional debate over defense spending revolves around the future of Guantanamo Bay, closing of bases around the country, or huge weapons systems.

This year, according to Bloomberg News, a dispute over a bread-and-butter matter -- how to pay for the rising cost of prescription drugs -- may be most difficult of all for lawmakers who are trying to close a deal on the bill, H.R. 1735, that would authorize more than $620 billion in defense-related spending.

At issue are benefits for the estimated 9.6 million users of the Pentagon's Tricare health system and resulting profits for retail drugstores including those run by CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Rite Aid Corp.

Senate negotiators are supporting an Obama administration plan to increase co-payments for military retirees and families over 10 years, while House conferees oppose passing on so much of that cost to veterans.

Military health benefit costs are "eating us alive," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. The Arizona Republican supports increasing co-pays to address additional costs, which he said isn't the most popular stand.