By Tom Philpott, April 21, 2009
Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ prescription for what ails military health care includes replacing aging hospitals and raising TRICARE fees for working-age retirees, which Congress has kept frozen since 1995.
“Health care is eating the (Defense) department alive,” Gates told officers attending the Air War College at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., after a Wednesday speech there on the budget.
The defense chief is visiting each service war college to take questions on plans for “rebalancing” defense spending, starting with the fiscal 2010 budget request to be sent to Congress soon. Goals are to take care of warriors and their families, enhance U.S. capabilities to fight wars, and reform weapons procurement, acquisition and contracting.
One question came from a lieutenant colonel in the Louisiana Air National Guard, who complained active-duty health services were “worse” than those given “Medicaid recipients.” He told Gates, “TRICARE does not even require professional-board certification for its physicians.”
The officer asked Gates what initiatives might be in the works to make “uniformed health care providers” the “norm” again or at least to raise standards for TRICARE providers that would be deemed acceptable for civilian government employees.