Three branches of the U.S. military are moving forward with plans to significantly reduce uniformed medical staff by at least 17,000 positions, beginning in 2021, if Congress approves the cuts.
Medical billets – doctors, medics, nurses, techs, dentists – and other medical personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force would be “repurposed as war fighters or combat-support skills to increase lethality and size of operational units,” according to Military.com, reducing the current active duty and reserve medical staff by about 13 percent.
Defense officials said that the reduction plan would also work to increase the capacity of the remaining medical staff employed at base hospitals, which would reinforce medical services and enhance the patient’s quality of care, Military.com reported.
The latest @Military_Update column | The Army, Navy and Air Force are finalizing plans to eliminate over the next few years more than 17,000 uniformed medical billets — physicians, dentists, nurses, technicians, medics and support personnel. https://t.co/CQDwPtZiG4
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) January 11, 2019
It is estimated that the Army will see cuts in medical staff by more than 7,000; the Navy and Air Force will see cuts of more than 5,000 for each branch, according to Military.com.
An anonymous health official told Military.com, “If the goal is to tear down the military health system, this would be a reasonable way to do it.”
However, arguing in favor of the cuts, a Defense Department official told Military.com, “So, part of this drill is to realign our people to the appropriate level of workload so that their skills, both for battlefield care and for beneficiary care, improve.”
One senior official said, “Reducing the number of people providing a particular service within a facility does not mean a degradation of care within that facility. A truism in the medical arena, is that the more times a provider performs a procedure, the better that provider is at performing that procedure.”
Officials haven’t given hard numbers for the number of proposed cuts, and they likely will not do that until a Fiscal Year 2020 defense budget is approved by Congress later this year, Military.com pointed out.
As part of the new plan, the Defense Health Agency would regulate all medical facilities and a new electronic health record system, the MHS Genesis, will also be introduced, Military.com reported.
Some U.S. Navy documents have indicated that there could be a savings of more than $1 billion if the cuts are implemented, Military.com reported.
A senior military official added, “How do we get higher levels of medical readiness for the next major conflict? That central question is going to drive a lot of changes throughout the military health care system.”