18 November 2015 Legislative News Update
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every Thursday when Congress is in session.
DEFENSE PANELS WILL STUDY MILITARY HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
“Nothing is off the table,” with regards to overhauling the military healthcare system said a professional staff member of the House Armed Services Committee this week.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill panel discussion on TRICARE and military healthcare in general, Jeanette James also said that, “If the military healthcare system is not working, or if it’s not meeting the needs of families, then it’s not meeting its purpose.”
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, opened the event and acknowledged that “healthcare is one of the most complex topics you can tackle. We want to take a broader look at the military healthcare system and how it can be improved.” In undertaking this review, Thornberry stressed that, “We need to be sure we are taking care of the people who are the centerpiece of our national security."
When asked what was wrong with the current healthcare system, another panel member, Christopher Meyers, associate director for health benefits for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) said that access to healthcare is a major concern. Finding doctors who will treat military beneficiaries continues to be a problem.
A 2013 study offered by the Government Accountability Office found that the number of doctors who will treat new TRICARE patients was declining. The two most common reasons cited was the lack of familiarity with the program and the reimbursement rate provided to physicians. The TRICARE payment formula is based on the formula used for Medicare and is considered low.
James said the defense committees would not necessarily scrap the current system altogether, rather they would look at all aspects of the system that could be improved. “Stop trying to fix things strictly from a cost standpoint,” James said. “Examine fundamental problems. There are no sacred cows.” But “when we look at reform, we need to be sure we maintain the system enough to provide medical readiness for the force,” she added.
A report released earlier this year by the congressionally-mandated MCRMC recommended changes to the military health system including moving non-active duty Tricare beneficiaries to civilian health insurance plans and making military hospitals and clinics competitive with civilian facilities.
James did not say she agreed with the MCRMC’s recommendations, but that best practices in commercial health care plans should be studied and applied to the military system.
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2016 included increases to pharmacy co-payments for prescriptions not filled at a military hospital or clinic.
Lawmakers from both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees said they made a conscious decision to focus on the military retirement system in fiscal 2016 policy bill, but that they will tackle “a major oversight and reform effort” to the $48 billion military healthcare system in the coming year.
The president is expected to sign the fiscal 2016 authorization bill this week.