DOD’s $1B Redundant Health Program: GAO Says Scrap It
Policy + Politics

DOD’s $1B Redundant Health Program: GAO Says Scrap It

REUTERS/Larry Downing

The government spends about $1 billion every year on a health care program for military families that auditors say is redundant and should be scrapped.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the U.S. Family Health Plan, which provides health care to at least 130,000 military family members and retirees, offers the same TRICARE Prime benefits that are offered by the regional TRICARE managed care support contractors.

Created in 1982, The program—USFHP—is an association of six health care systems that provides TRICARE Prime benefits to military families.

Related: How Medicare Wastes Almost $50 B a Year

GAO says it should be eliminated because it has a significant geographic overlap with existing Tricare Prime regions.

The report said four of the six organizations that participate in the program service areas where the Defense Health agency offers Tricare through military hospitals and clinics.

GAO noted that the role of the program hasn’t been reevaluated since TRICARE was implemented in the 1990s and urged lawmakers to consider scrapping the program.

“Congress should terminate DOD’s authority to contract with the USFHP designated providers in a manner consistent with a reasonable transition of affected ... enrollees into Tricare’s regional managed care program or other health care programs as appropriate,” GAO Official Debra Draper wrote in the report.

She added that cutting the program would save money by eliminating added costs and overhead.

However, officials running the program disagree and say it provides a valuable service.

 “We believe very strongly that this is the model of health care for the future. ... We are duplicative in that we serve the same area but not the same in how we operate and take care of our members,” Dr. David Howes, president and CEO of USFHP participant Martin’s Point Health Care in Maine, told The Army Times. “We approach the care of patients in the same way the original HMO concept was intended, looking at the population and doing everything we can to improve their wellness.”

In response to the report, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson concurred with the auditor’s findings, but said it’s up to Congress to eliminate the program because doing so requires changing the existing law.

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