DoD, private sector should team to control retiree health costs, Woodson testifies 

10/1/2010 

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to know what steps the nominee for assistant secretary of defense for health affairs would take to contain health care costs that have risen from $16 billion in Fiscal Year 2001 to more than $50 billion in the coming year’s budget request.

Jonathan Woodson, a brigadier general in the Army Reserve, said he would work with the constituencies in military health care to find efficient and effective therapies and more inter-service collaboration on training, use of facilities and providing care.

"A lot of the costs are in the retiree community," Woodson said. To help control that cost, there has to be a better sharing of patient data between the Department of Defense and the private sector.

There "are a lot of varieties and flavors of electronic health records" in the private sector that are not compatible with each other or the Defense Department’s system or the Department of Veterans Affairs’ system.

He added that DoD’s electronic record-keeping system while ahead of the private sector in handling administrative aspects of medicine "is not an efficient tool" for providers in taking care of patients.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking member, said, "Your major challenge is to get these health care costs under control" in a system with 9.5 million beneficiaries.

Woodson, who served in Operations Desert Shield, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, said that there are shortages in a number of medical specialties. "We need to implement some new strategies" to attract the kinds of medical professionals the military needs.

Complicating recruiting is the increasingly narrow specialization of many physicians, he said, where the armed forces need professionals with broader skills. "General surgeons are difficult to recruit."

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said about the shortages of medical professionals in the armed forces, "I do think it is severe" and causes delays for patients seeking care.

When asked about the Army’s recently completed study of suicide, Woodson said, it "provided a better profile of who is at risk" and the need to do a better job of screening recruits and building resiliency training into basic combat training.