Tricare is the Department of Defense's health care plan for all of the United States' 9.7 million active duty and retired military members and their dependents. Love it or hate it---and there are strong proponents in both camps-- as a military family it is our only military provided health care option. We are free to go elsewhere for our health insurance but I can guarantee you that we won't find it anywhere else for less money. I have my share of gripes with the system but at the end of the day I am grateful for the fact that in a world where many people are chronically uninsured or under insured, my family has the security of health insurance. As an active duty family this insurance comes at no cost to us; while we may have minimal co-pays on occasion, the entire cost of our annual premium is paid by the U.S. taxpayers (which does include us). I appreciate this generous freebie but I'm sure I am in the minority of military families when I say that in today's fiscally constrained environment, I think each and every one of us needs to be contributing financially to this ever ballooning expense.
For some time I've felt that military members and their families, both active duty and retirees, should be required to contribute financially to the cost of our own health care. Where else does one get entirely free health insurance--which usually equates into free health care-- for themselves and every one of their dependents for life? Opponents to passing on expenses argue that military families have already contributed enough to their country. Yes, we have contributed a lot but so have our country's police, fire fighters, and others who put themselves in harms way on a daily basis in the course of doing their jobs. For better or worse, we all knew what we were getting into when we signed up so I don't think it is too much to ask all of us to give a little more. Perhaps reading too many military spouse blogs that decry how horrible and unfair their free Tricare is coupled with seeing people not taking care of their own health through diet and exercise when there are free medications available to them has made me too cynical on this subject. Maybe it is my own past of relying upon a civilian HMO where I had to make choices about what was important to me and actually paying the corresponding costs that makes me think everyone should contribute to the cost of their health care. Personally, when I am forced to open up my own wallet to pay for my care (which I have done on numerous occasions when I decided to undergo procedures not covered by Tricare), I think twice about what is and isn't important to me in terms of care.
This morning's Washington Post ran an editorial on the Tricare debate in terms of the overall Department of Defense budget. Vital components contributing to troop readiness such as operations, weapons, and training are all on the chopping block while personnel expenses including Tricare have been made off limits by the Senate Armed Services Committee. With a budget increase from $19 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $52.8 billion in fiscal year 2011, Tricare is literally eating up the Department of Defense budget. DOD and the Obama administration have put forth proposals that, while they would increase health care costs for retirees, would still keep costs considerably lower than they are for the rest of the population. Given the number of retirees, that is a lot of close to free health care. I don't understand why there is such resistance to this. I am having a hard time accepting the argument that paying a maximum of $2,000 a year for health care is too expensive. I'm sure there are thousands of uninsured people who would jump at the opportunity.
If the U.S. military is supposed to be the ultimate patriotic organization shouldn't we, as members of this organization, be willing to do our part to help keep our country financially stable? The combination of advances in modern medicine and an aging population means the financial costs of health costs is only going to increase over time. And we're not just talking about our elderly veterans. Any active duty military member can retire after twenty years of service and be eligible for Tricare's retiree health insurance for the rest of their life. The "fiscal cliff" that is currently being debated in Washington is going to look like nothing in a few years if something isn't done soon about rising health care costs. I for one would gladly pay more (or anything for that matter) to continue to have access to quality health care. We need to all give a little to continue to get a lot in return. After all, active duty military family or retiree, we too are U.S. taxpayers and we owe it to our country and ourselves to do our part.