Saturday, July 13, 2024

Some bases in health deserts; DOD aims to bring back TRICARE users

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(NewsNation) — When seeking off-base healthcare, thousands of U.S. troops and their families face significant challenges.

An NPR analysis reveals that half of active duty U.S. military bases are within federally designated Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA).

These HPSAS, also known as “health care deserts,” are geographic areas, populations, or facilities lacking primary, dental, or mental health care providers, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

1 in 3 U.S. troops live in a health care desert

Excluding National Guard installations, NPR found that half the bases are within at least one healthcare desert. Three out of four bases in primary care deserts are also in mental health care deserts, maternal care deserts, or both. By population, 1 in 3 U.S. troops and their families live in a health care desert, NPR found.

The analysis also found that 202 military bases are in primary care, mental health care, or maternity care shortage areas, while 35 are in areas designated as all three types.

Pentagon downsizing impacting Tricare insurance

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has aimed to consolidate the four military branches under one health, which included pushing family members to use their Tricare insurance in the private sector care instead of on-base.

However, the DOD admitted that downsizing was potentially harming military readiness and recruitment. An Inspector General’s report documented issues with access to care and medical staff shortages on base.

Sean Murphy, who served 44 years and retired as Deputy Surgeon General of the Air Force, told NPR that many providers can’t afford to accept Tricare’s low reimbursement rates, even outside healthcare deserts.

For instance, when he retired in 2021, Murphy was turned down by four doctors before he found a fifth who would accept Tricare.

The DOD now wants to bring Tricare beneficiaries back to the military health system.

In a memo obtained by Military.com, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks outlined an effort to “re-attract” beneficiaries to military hospitals and clinics.

Legislation introduced to improve maternity care

A significant issue for troops and their families is access to maternal care.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require the DOD to conduct a detailed study on service members’ and spouses’ access to maternity care within the military health system.

U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Al., and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y, and Sens. Marco Rubio. R-Fl., and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced the Improving Access to Maternal Health for Military and Dependent Moms Act in February. The bill aims to improve access to prenatal, birthing and postpartum care for those covered by Tricare.

The bill would mandate a two-year study by the DOD on the availability of maternity care within the military health system and staffing shortages related to maternal care and childbirth, Military.com reported. It would also examine the availability of obstetric care at Tricare-affiliated providers outside military treatment facilities.

It comes after a May 2023 study found that patient satisfaction ratings for obstetric care in military health facilities are lower compared to medical and surgical care.

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