Date Published: 10 November 2008
On the eve of Veterans Day AMA works to improve health care for military families
As the nation honors its veterans, the American Medical Association (AMA) honored the military today at its semi-annual policy-making meeting by pledging to work to improve access to health care for active duty military personnel, reservists, veterans and their families who rely on TRICARE, the military’s health insurance program.
Today’s action by the nation’s largest physician organization was taken in response to concerns that TRICARE is straining to meet surging demand to provide quality health care, including mental health services. At the same time, civilian physicians caring for TRICARE patients have been forced to make difficult decisions as government payment rates do not cover the cost of care and additional cuts are planned.
“Many physicians consider it a service to the country to care for military members and their families, and as we celebrate Veterans Day it is critical to strengthen TRICARE so that physicians can continue to provide that care,” said AMA Board Member Steven M. Stack, M.D. “More than nine million Americans are eligible for TRICARE, and physicians want to care for them, so let’s ensure they can get the care they need.”
Current concerns with TRICARE are likely to be exacerbated by the increasing demand for mental health services among beneficiaries. Roughly 300,000 U.S. military personnel have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or severe depression after being deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, increasing the need for health care services. In addition, nearly 320,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan incur probable traumatic brain injury (TBI) during deployment.
“The AMA will encourage TRICARE to strengthen and adequately support its network of mental health specialists to respond to increasing needs of our troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Dr. Stack. “Increasing the availability of physicians can reduce wait times and close severe gaps in the access and delivery of mental health services for military personnel.”
A growing proportion of veterans, military personnel and their families are no longer predominately located near bases, where military clinics and hospitals are located. Base closings and families of active duty military who choose to live near their extended families during long deployments both increase the reliance on civilian physicians. The AMA is encouraging TRICARE to improve its physician education programs to facilitate increased participation and improve coordination of care.
“The last thing physicians want is for a military member on active duty to worry that a family member back home is having trouble getting a doctor’s appointment,” said Dr. Stack. “The AMA will work to educate physicians on improvements to TRICARE that may make it easier for them to care for military families, and work with the military to further improve the program.”
Source: American Medical Association (AMA).