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How Out Of Control Is Military Health Care Spending?

In remarks at the Pentagon today, President Obama outlined a new military strategy that scales back the size and goals of the armed forces. Part of the strategy, designed in response to increased budget constraints, is a call “for the Pentagon to trim its personnel costs by reducing the amount of money the department spends on health care.” How serious is the Pentagon’s health care spending problem?

According to a 2011 report from the Center for American Progress, the Department of Defense requested $52.5 billion for its “Tricare” military health insurance program in its FY2012 budget—a 300 percent increase from its 2001 request. The report notes that during his tenure, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said health care costs were “eating the Department of Defense alive.” It argues that savings can be achieved by rebalancing cost-sharing with military retirees, a process which would still spare the health coverage of active-duty personnel, low-income veterans, and the seriously injured. Proposals of this sort have been suggested by both parties, but they have consistently been blocked in Congress. That resistance stands in the way of serious savings: The report estimates that if its recommendations were adopted, the Pentagon could reduce its spending by up to $15 billion every year.