Shelton Says DoD Must Live up to Medical Promises
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2000, Feb. 8, 2000 Calling the military medical system "not user-friendly," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said TRICARE "must be fixed and the over- all health-care system must be improved."
Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton told the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 8 that he thinks America has broken its commitment to military retirees to provide health care.
TRICARE is one of the quality of life initiatives DoD will stress in the fiscal 2001 Defense budget request. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Shelton will work together in the coming year to change TRICARE.
"While service members and their families are normally very pleased with the care that they receive once they enter into the system ... they are very frustrated with TRICARE as a system," Shelton said. "It is quite frankly immensely complex, administratively confusing and not very customer- friendly. Our service members and their families deserve better."
The fiscal 2001 DoD budget request makes some changes. In TRICARE Prime, the request eliminates co-pays for active duty service members who must get treatment in civilian facilities. The request also eliminates the co-pay for family members enrolled in TRICARE Prime Remote.
Shelton said in an earlier speech that DoD must fully fund and place more emphasis on the Defense Health Program. He also has said the medical plan deserves the attention of command at all levels.
Taking care of military retirees' health needs is also a priority for Cohen and Shelton. "I think that the first thing that we need to do is make sure that we acknowledge our commitment to the retirees for their years of service and for what we basically committed to at the time they were recruited into the armed forces," Shelton told the Senate committee.
He told the senators that DoD has recruiting posters that vividly state that not only would the services provide medical care upon retirement, "but that their families would be taken care of," Shelton said. "In their minds, we have broken that commitment. And I think we have."
He said the Joint Chiefs are proposing a plan that would provide some type of national pharmacy benefit with no enrollment fees for Medicare-eligible retirees. He said the chiefs are also examining a MediGap type of insurance for retirees 65 and older. "Both these are rather expensive programs, but we've got to somehow find a way to start providing more than we have in the past," Shelton said.
Defense officials agree that the programs will be expensive. DoD Comptroller William Lynn said during a Pentagon news conference that the cost could be from $2 billion to $8 billion more per year depending on what program is adopted.
"At the end of the day fixing TRICARE is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do," Shelton said. "It sends a very strong signal, not only to those serving today, but all those that are considering a career in our armed forces as well.
"And it keeps faith and keeps the commitment to those that have served and retired. We need to get it right, and I know that together, we will."