Top Docs Squash Privitization Talks

June 19, 2015

The military's top doctors told lawmakers they do not support proposals to privatize TRICARE. In Congressional testimony, senior military medical leaders addressed health care reforms recommended by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The report, released earlier this year, recommended privatizing TRICARE and creating a new Joint Readiness Command.

Although the surgeons general all expressed appreciation for the time and effort put forward by the MCRMC, they were unanimous in rejecting the TRICARE privatization proposal. They cited several reasons for rejecting the proposal, including increased costs and the negative impact to readiness training.

Under the MCRMC proposal, known as TRICARE Choice, millions of TRICARE beneficiaries would move to commercial, private sector health plans. The plans, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, would be similar to those offered to federal civilians. According to the MCRMC, TRICARE Choice would give servicemembers and their families more choices in health care coverage. However, the commission says that military families would pay up to four times more in health care costs.

According to Army Surgeon General Patricia Horoho, TRICARE Choice "would negatively impact the readiness of our entire health care team and present financial challenges for active duty families and retirees."

Having TRICARE compete with the private sector "would drive up administrative costs and significantly detract from the operational mission of our medical facilities," said Air Force Surgeon General Mark Ediger.

"It is critical to understand that our direct health care system connects with the battlefield and exists to provide health readiness to our soldiers and their families," said Horoho. "This is what separates us from the civilian health care system."

This message echoes what MOAA President, VADM Norb Ryan, USN (Ret) told lawmakers in February. Ryan said that problems with TRICARE "can be addressed in a systemic manner without resorting to its elimination."

The surgeons general also rejected the creation of a new Joint Readiness Command, saying that current and existing reforms are providing the desired changes. The surgeons general said the recent establishment of the Defense Health Agency (DHA) aims to standardize common or shared services between the three military medical commands, such as a joint Health Information and Technology service.

MOAA agrees, and has consistently said that the largest barrier to an efficient and highly reliable health care organization is the three-service system. Instead of creating a far-reaching command tasked with handling the entire scope of joint readiness, MOAA suggests building upon the current DHA structure and establishing a unified medical command with a single budget authority, one that can reduce redundancies and produce cost savings.

MOAA appreciates the time Congress is taking to analyze the MCMRC health care proposals before taking action, and supports initiatives that strengthen TRICARE for beneficiaries and sustains military medical readiness.

At the conclusion of the testimony, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) emphasized Congress's desire to improve TRICARE, saying they "look forward to continuing to work … to make TRICARE the premier health care provider in the nation."