Controlling military health care costs
IN THE POLITICS of defense spending, cutting expensive weapons programs plays the role that taxing the wealthy plays in the overall fiscal debate. Though undoubtedly necessary to any credible plan, it is far from sufficient. Yet advocates often talk as if reining in Pentagon spending is all about wasteful weapons.
In fact, weapons programs account for only about a third of defense spending, and the Obama administration is already planning significant reductions. The costs of operations and personnel make up the majority of the defense budget, so any balanced approach must deal with those as well.
Here, too, the administration plans cuts, including shrinking the Army and the Marine Corps. This is risky, given the potential threats the United States faces. Unfortunately, Congress is compounding the problem by protecting expensive items that inflate personnel costs without any corresponding payoff in defense readiness.
We refer to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s refusal to accept an administration proposal to trim Tricare, the military health-care program for which 9.7 million active and retired military personnel and family members are eligible. Obviously, those who serve or served their country deserve generous health benefits. But Tricare goes well beyond that. The service is free for active-duty service members and their families except for some prescription copayments. For retirees under the age of 65, many of whom are in the work force and eligible for employer-provided benefits, Tricare costs at most $1,000 per year out of pocket — less than a fifth of civilian plans, according to the Congressional Budget Office.