Military health care costs “are eating the Department of Defense alive,” according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2012 budget request includes $52.5 billion for the Tricare military medical insurance program, a 300 percent increase over its fiscal year 2001 budget. As a result of this unprecedented cost growth in the Tricare system, nearly 10 percent of the baseline defense budget now goes to providing medical care for active duty, reserve, and National Guard troops and their dependents, as well as military retirees of all ages and their dependents.
These skyrocketing health care costs will consume an increasingly large portion of the defense budget as the federal deficit forces the country to slow down projected increases in defense spending. The cost of military health care could eventually begin to divert funding away from other crucial national security initiatives.
Congressional inaction over the past 15 years is largely to blame for the sorry state of the military health care budget today. If lawmakers and policymakers want to support Tricare over the long term, they need to understand how and why the current crisis developed. And they need to deal with it in a way that honors commitments to those who have served their country in the armed forces—while also being fair to the American taxpayer.
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