CLINTON BUDGET: Defense Focuses on Health Care
Leaders at the Pentagon are finding Congress "sympathetic" to their plan for allocating more funds to "quality of life" programs as they pitch President Clinton's proposed $277 billion defense budget. The Pentagon is hoping to improve morale and enlistment rolls through easier access to health care, "perhaps the single most important issue" in the upcoming debate on military spending, according to Defense Secretary William Cohen. Clinton's proposal calls for improvements in Tricare , the military health plan, by asking for $80 million to offer an HMO-style health benefit to enlistees stationed far away from miliary medical facilities. The budget, however, does not address one "compelling" issue -- restoring full health benefits to retired veterans over 65 years of age, who are "getting squeezed out of the system as the number of military medical facilities shrinks and the retiree population grows." Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) are pushing their "Keep Our Promise Act," which would restore full health benefits to military retirees at a price tag of up to $10 billion. Johnson said, "The legislation would rectify a broken promise made to those servicemen and women who were promised by recruiters that they would have fully paid health care for life." During his visits to Capitol Hill last week, Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed, saying that restoration of these benefits is "not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do, because it also sends a very strong signal, not only to those serving today, but also those that are considering a career in our armed forces. And it also keeps faith and keeps the commitment to those that have served and retired" (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 2/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.