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DOD to downsize 50 hospitals & clinics; most will treat only active-duty personnel

Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital. (Department of Defense/Released)
February 20, 2020

The Department of Defense announced that it will restructure 50 of its hospitals and clinics, most of which will become exclusive to active-duty military personnel in order to better support its wartime-readiness efforts.

Referred to as the “right-sizing” plan, the policy change announced on Wednesday would drastically downsize the Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs), according to the announcement.

“Military readiness includes making sure MTFs are operated to ensure service members are medically ready to train and deploy,” said Tom McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “It also means MTFs are effectively utilized as platforms that enable our military medical personnel to acquire and maintain the clinical skills and experience that prepares them for deployment in support of combat operations around the world.”

Additionally, the move would mean 200,000 retirees, veterans, and active duty family members would have to switch to private care, according to estimates.

Of the 50 MTFs selected for right-sizing, 37 will only serve active-duty personnel. The active-duty family members, veterans and their families currently receiving care at those 37 MTFs will transition to Tricare’s civilian provider network. Seven of these clinics might continue treating active-duty family members if there is space available.

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“During the transition, some local markets may be challenged to absorb the additional MTF beneficiary demand,” the restructuring document says. “As demand grows, the expectation is that new entrants to the market will increase network capacity. However, this expectation will be carefully managed during the transition and, if during implementation, local networks are challenged to absorb demand, the Department will revise its implementation plan.”

The report acknowledges that many patients will have to transition from MTFs to the Tricare network, and suggested two popular plans for individuals under the age of 65, Tricare Prime and Tricare Select. The Defense Department also acknowledged that the completion of the transition could take “several years.”

Additionally, there are other plans targeted for specific beneficiary groups, such as Reservists and individuals eligible for Medicare.

However, if local Tricare networks cannot provide access to quality care, the Defense Department said it will revise implementation plans.

“Markets are expected to transition MTF eligibles to the network at different rates and, in certain markets, the transition could take several years,” the report states.

The plan has not been received well by some in the military industry.

The popular Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco wrote in a post that the DHA is “subjecting those who gave decades of service and families who support AD to long wait times off base, lengthy travel with extra expenses along with high copayments, as Tricare has double and tripled copayments over the last few years.”

“[DOD] will claim this is a focus on increasing [active duty] AD Readiness, but it’s at the expense of those who came before them, their families and their pocketbooks,” the post added. “Hopefully Congress will scrutinize this before it has disastrous effects, due to behind the scene position cuts and downsizing.”