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American Forces Press Service

Task Force Shares Military Health Care Recommendations

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2007 – A Congressionally-appointed group of military and health care experts today released its findings after a year-long diagnosis of the military’s health care system.

The comprehensive report by the 14-member group makes a dozen recommendations for improving the world’s largest military health program. The findings -- based on meetings with subject-matter experts, current and former officers and enlisted members and other beneficiaries -- urge increased integration of systems, more efficient procurement and contracting processes, and an expansion of benefits.

“This is the best course of action because this is an integrated report,” Air Force Gen. John D.W. Corley told reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon today. Corley and Dr. Gail Wilensky co-chair the Task Force on the Future of Military Health Care.

The report suggests improving the medical readiness of reserve components, modifying pharmacy benefits into a tiered structure, auditing financial controls, and developing a new set of metrics for assessing health care transformation.

In December 2006, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appointed 14 members to the task force; half the panel’s experts on health care programs and costs are Defense Department employees. The group was asked to address 10 topics relevant to the future of military healthcare and issue a final report with its assessment and recommendations within 12 months.

The expert group assessed the Defense Department’s level of preparation for disease, military health education programs, health care accounting practices, procurement and contracting processes, and beneficiary and government cost sharing, among others aspects.

Corley said the group has been guided by three principles, including, first, to maintain or improve the health of U.S. military forces and allow the military’s medical practitioners to provide operational health care across the globe. Second, to maintain or improve the quality and productivity of care provided to beneficiaries. Finally, to improve military health care efficiency by reflecting best practices demonstrated in the private and international sectors.

“The report adheres to those guiding principles,” he said. “I’m a military member, so my first focus is on readiness of the force. What I’m anxious to have is readiness of the force, not just today, but in the future, as well.

“The report also makes sure, in my mind, that we maintain that generous benefit which health care is, and it attempts to restore the balance,” he added.

Wilensky summarized the group’s focal points during the 12-month military health care assessment.

“We have recognized that our task force needs to balance the needs of the military for medical readiness, the recognition of the commitments and sacrifices of our military, and the requirement to improve and support the future of military health care that would be sustainable by the American public,” she told reporters.

In addition to co-chairing the task force, Wilensky also is a member of a bi-partisan committee tasked by President Bush to fix problems with wounded servicemembers’ care. The president created the nine-member panel in March 2007 in the wake of reports that troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here were receiving sub-par treatment, citing a “moral obligation” to provide the best possible care to men and women in uniform.

Today, the task force co-chairs acknowledged that some of recommendations outlined in the report require further Congressional action. Far from discouraged, Wilensky said the task force members and the Congressional representatives who appointed them share the same goals.

“Congress is at least as cognizant … of the stresses and strains on the military health care system as we are,” she said. “They, after all, are the ones who established us as a task force on the future of military health care and directed us to look specifically at this issue.

“I believe that these are issues that the Congress will indeed address when it is appropriate and politically feasible for them to do so,” she said.

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