TRICARE: Pentagon Sets Sights on Reform Next Year
Some members of Congress and the Pentagon "have agreed next year to begin revamping a military health care system afflicted by long waiting lines and an exodus of top doctors," the Washington Times reports. Recently, Congress and the Pentagon "have fielded an increasing number of complaints about delays in getting doctors' appointments and the lack of administrative conformity" in Tricar e, the military's health care system that provides benefits for 8 million active-duty and retired troops and their dependents. Tricare also faces financial difficulties, some sources said. According to Chuck Partridge, legislative counsel for the National Association for Uniformed Services, the Department of Defense is "hundreds of millions of dollars behind in paying Tricare private contractors." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) wrote President Clinton in November asking for a $5 billion increase to this year's $267 billion defense spending level. Lott wrote, "The military medical and dental care system still does not provide benefits to all that have earned them and is possibly the single most important item affecting the quality of life of our service members, their families and our retirees." Senior defense officials and congressional aides met Dec. 13 to discuss the issue and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a follow-up meeting on Dec. 15. Options being discussed include increasing doctor's fees and hiring more physicians; reducing Tricare reimbursement time; streamlining bureaucracy to cut patient waiting time; and allowing retirees over age 65 to enroll in the federal employees health care system to supplement Medicare and make Tricare prescription benefits available to them. Capt. Stephen Pietropaoli, spokesperson for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Henry Shelton, said that Tricare reform "is certainly in the sights of the chairman and the service chiefs for the year ahead." He added that "we see it as having a direct effect on our overall readiness based upon retention and recruiting. ... There's no clear plan on this yet. We're working closely with the secretary of defense." Partridge, a retired Army colonel, seconded those notions, saying, "As an officer, I used to talk to the troops into staying beyond their two-year commitment. 'You have this great health care program you never lose.' I figured I was telling the truth and I wasn't" (Scarborough, 12/20).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.