WASHINGTON—Military and medical professionals are urging Congress to provide more funding for the military health system despite budget cuts proposed by the Defense Department.
The DOD has proposed reducing the cost of providing health care to service members, veterans and their families in light of the rising costs of health care reform included the FY 2012 budget that President Barack Obama has submitted for congressional approval.
On Tuesday, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) Clifford Stanley, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) Jonathan Woodson, and the surgeons general of the Navy, Army and Air Force testified before the House Military Personnel Subcommittee as part of a series of hearings on the administration’s budget for military health programs.
The DOD has proposed reducing the cost of providing health care to service members, veterans and their families in light of the rising costs of health care reform included the FY 2012 budget.
But the military said needs even more funding to provide quality health care to “accelerate the prevention, diagnosis and treatment for physical and emotional wounds of war,” Woodson said.
Each surgeon general listed innovations he thought could revolutionize health care on the battlefield.
“We have the best trauma care in the world…but we’re pleased, not satisfied with the progress we’re making,” said Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson, the navy surgeon general.
Robinson suggested medical improvements that could improve the efficiency of care while reducing costs. These include an electronic health system that integrates primary and specialty care for patients; standardization for medical supplies; and the adoption of the Forward Resuscitation Surgical System, which can perform 18 major operations over three days without being re-supplied.
Army Surgeon General Lt. General Schoomaker said prevention programs in the army could reduce suffering for service members later.
“The health of total army is essential to readiness. This includes the promotion of healthy lifestyle, a focus on body mass index and childhood obesity,” Schoomaker said.
All witnesses stressed the importance of Tricare, the controversial health care plan for all active service members, their families and veterans. On average, military retirees and their families on Tricare pay deductibles of $460 per person, per year, while individuals pay $250 per year.
“These rates have not been raised in 15 years,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass. “Congress need to take on the critical task of reviewing the massive strain which has been placed on the defense budget.”
Committee members also voiced concern over the DOD’s recent decision to hire former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, to review the military health system and its impacts on the force. Baldacci was hired on a one-year contract for $163,000 to conduct the study.
“Why is having a ‘Military Health Care Czar’ not a duplication of the duties already assumed by Under Secretary Stanley and Assistant Secretary Woodson?” asked Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
Both Woodson and Stanley said they would welcome Baldacci as a third-party observer because the review calls for transparency.
“We haven’t been as open as we should have been with following with what’s been recommended,” Stanley said. “We’re look looking at readiness, wellness and patient satisfaction. Cost was the last piece.”