Earlier this week, MOAA called on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to halt all military medical billet reductions and any proposed military treatment facility (MTF) downsizing given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we appreciate DoD’s assurances that all changes to MTF capacity will be conditions-based, both beneficiaries and medical providers must be certain proposals to reduce the military’s direct care system capacity are not moving forward at this time. Since the FY 2017 NDAA Section 703 report detailing MTF downsizing was released, MOAA has heard from both providers and beneficiaries with concerns about their local communities’ ability to absorb care transitioned out of MTFs.
With medical capacity in extraordinary flux across the civilian health care system, it becomes increasingly prudent to officially halt all proposals to transition military families and retirees to civilian providers.
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Demands related to the uniformed medical mission have also increased due to COVID-19, since the private sector has little incentive to produce and maintain excess patient care capacity. Governors have called on the administration for military medical assistance, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) will expand capacity for non-COVID-19 patients in coastal areas, and active duty medical units and reserve personnel are on alert or have been deployed to man field hospitals. The military medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic is destined to inform future operational and medical readiness requirements for the medical force.
Rep. Ross Spano (R-Fla.) has already sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper urging him to stop the proposed closure and downsizing of clinics in his district given the strain the coronavirus could place on local medical services. Proposed changes to the MacDill Air Force Base Clinic and the Sabal Park Clinic in Spano’s district would move approximately 30,000 military beneficiaries to civilian care in the Tampa Bay area.
MOAA has always supported an enhanced focus on military medical readiness while vowing to ensure continued access to high quality care for servicemembers and retirees, as well as their families and survivors. However, the unprecedented challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic demand all plans to reduce MHS direct care system capacity cease now; they can be reconsidered at a later date once the significant servicewide (and nationwide) lessons are processed and applied.