Monday, May 10, 2010

Military considers raising health insurance costs for retirees

The cost of health care for the military has been a growing subject of late: As reported in Government Executive:
Some military retirees are finding a proposal for TRICARE fee hikes hard to swallow.
During a hearing earlier this week on a range of military budget issues, Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, told lawmakers the ballooning expense of providing health coverage for retirees "eats into [funding for] our other programs." Roughead and two other high-ranking military leaders recommended that for the first time in more than a decade, the Pentagon ask retirees to contribute more money to their insurance coverage.
I don't think this is the answer for two reasons: 1) It breaks a promise made to military personnel  and 2) having retirees pick up more of the cost is not going to solve the problem of higher health care.

As Jim Arkedis at the Progressive Policy Institute Washington D.C. put it:
...recent wars have helped push costs skyward.

"You can't nit-pick the problem away through selective cuts to benefit programs because, first, there's a core constituency of hard-working military members, families and retirees who depend on them," he said. "And second, frankly, it wouldn't solve enough of the problem anyway. The key cost drivers are large-scale military deployments abroad."

"The moral of the story is that if you want to control personnel costs, you have to be really careful about which wars you fight — they better be the right ones."
Well, that's obvious. So why do we have military personnel deployed to more than 150 countries? Two wars still going on? etc., ad nauseum.  According to Wikipedia:
The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 [1] countries around the world, with more than 369,000 of its 1,379,551[2] active-duty troops serving outside the United States and its territories. Many of these troops are still located at installations activated during the Cold War, by which the US government sought to counter the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.
Do we really need this to protect our vital interest? Or is it just more pork?

But I digress. Back to health care.

One suggestion: Have active duty personnel start paying a premium for their dependents, who still get free health care. When ever you have a program that is very low cost or free, it gets overused, creating scarcity. This requires the military to hire more medical staff and drives up costs.

At one time when I was on active duty, our base hospital was so over-used by dependents (like using the ER for every little complaint that most people would use a pharmacy for), the Air Force considered charging $25 per visit. This was nixed as not politically popular.

I really don't mind paying a little more in Tricare premiums -- since they seem low by today's standards -- but this violates a promise of free health care if I served at least 20 years.

This may be one way to try to control the Pentagon's growing budget, but I'll bet there are better, more effective ways.

From my own experience, and I have personal experience in the military budgeting process, this will be a very hard thing to do. The process of funding the military will have to change, and that will be politically difficult. It has to start with a fickle Congress.

We need a strong national defense, second to none, but the Pentagon can be a black hole.

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