Military Health Insurance, Care Costs Rising Rapidly
Military spending on health insurance and care has increased about 167 percent, from $19 billion in 2001 to a projected $50.7 billion in 2011, according to a recent report in USA Today. The surging health care costs for military personnel and their families is just one more consequence of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, which combined have claimed more than 5,400 American lives.
Overall, military spending on health care is climbing twice as fast as the nation’s health care costs. Given the rising costs with no end in sight, and since there has not been an increase in out-of-pocket fees for military retirees and some active-duty families since 1995, Congress and the Pentagon are now considering such a move, according to Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of TRICARE, the military health care program.
TRICARE covers 9.6 million people, according to the TRICARE website, which also states that the new health care reform legislation “will not affect the TRICARE benefits. Eligibility, covered benefits, copayments and all other features of our TRICARE program remain.”
However, the continuing and dramatic rise in health care is “beginning to eat us alive,” according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a statement to Congress in February 2010. The costs come from an increased need for care in many areas and a rising number of people enrolled in TRICARE.
TRICARE reported that children of deployed military personnel required 42 percent more counseling sessions in 2009 than in 2005. Since 2004, behavioral-health counseling sessions for troops and their family members have risen 65 percent, with 140,000 patients being seen each week, according to TRICARE. A new report in Army Times notes that an average of 950 veterans who are receiving treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department attempt suicide each month.
Soldiers are returning from the wars with physical and mental injuries that require lifelong and expensive care. Thus far, about 950 soldiers who were in Iraq or Afghanistan have amputations. Since 2004, the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) has filled more than 15,200 requests by wounded military service members for assistive technologies.
Active-duty troops and their family members receive free health care except for out-of-pocket co-payments of $3 or $9 per prescription at civilian pharmacies. Retired military personnel receive the same benefits when they pay $230 per person or $460 per family annually, along with low co-payments for different types of health care. These fees have not been increased since 1995, in sharp contrast with yearly cost increases associated with private health insurance plans.
Military health care costs continue to rise, but as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC said at a recent hearing, “there’s a cost-containment problem. I don’t see how we can sustain this forever, where TRICARE is never subject to adjustment in terms of the premiums to be paid.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 19, 2009
USA Today, April 22, 2010