Cost-saving plan to unify military medical services on hold

The proposal by the Defense Department was put on hold for a year by the Senate Armed Services Committee so its costs and impact could be studied further.

Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, said the unification would reduce duplication and increase efficiencies in research and development, logistics, accounting, information technology, budget management and hospital operations.

“We were close,” Woodson said of the proposal.

Military health care spending, driven by medical and psychological wounds from a decade of war, is one of the fastest growing areas of the Defense budget, accounting for 10% of spending. It has gone from $19 billion in 2001 to $53 billion this year.

A study directed by the Navy in 2006 said the unification could save up to $417 million per year.

The proposal was approved by the House Armed Services Committee but rejected by the Senate committee. The Senate and House compromised in December in a final 2012 Defense budget bill by requesting nearly a year of study to compare all options.

“We have questions about the cost of the reorganization, what the reorganization would look like and what the impact would be on beneficiaries,” said Tara Andringa, a spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Claude Chafin, speaking for the House Armed Services Committee, said “the House continues to advocate for the creation of a Joint Medical Command which is the only approach that has demonstrated it can realize a cost savings while maintaining a standard of care.”

Dr. Ward Casscells, who served in Woodson’s position from 2007 to 2009, said the idea always met some opposition from within the services. Each was “afraid of losing authority,” he said.

“We have got to responsibly manage the costs and make sure that we are driving any waste in the system out of the system, while preserving access to quality care,” Woodson said. “There’s an opportunity to work very collaboratively with Congress.”

Article source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2012-01-30/military-medical-care/52903224/1

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