LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — How many times have you heard that those in the military receive “free” medical care? Well, it is free isn’t it?
Not even close. In fact, every aspect of a person’s medical care has a cost. Each year the Defense Department spends more than $50 billion for medical care, and every year that cost increases. As Congress struggles to find ways to cut costs, one area their eyes have turned toward is military healthcare expenditures. One might ask, “What does the DOD budget have to do with me?”
Individuals likely have much more influence on medical care costs than one might think. Focusing attention briefly on one aspect of military healthcare that can be extremely expensive is the use of emergency room services at civilian hospitals. Many military treatment facilities are shutting down their emergency rooms to cut costs, and military members and their dependents are left using civilian emergency rooms when they need treatment for life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Notice the phrase “life-threatening.”
The definition of a medical emergency is any illness or injury that threatens the loss of life, limb or eyesight. Unfortunately, individuals routinely use the emergency room for reasons that don’t even remotely fit that definition. The reasons run the gamut but most often are convenience, inability to get an appointment with a primary care manager, lack of information and even fear.
I won’t bore you with statistics, but suffice it to say inappropriate use of the emergency room for mild or moderate illness and injury is extremely expensive and is one of the key factors in driving up the costs of military health care. It is also one of the things that we, as responsible Airmen and citizens, can exert some direct personal control over. As a healthcare provider in the 56th Medical Group, I realize we play a part as well.
Leaders in the 56th MDG recently focused much time and energy on identifying how we can help do our part to address this issue. We are currently implementing measures we hope will make it easier to obtain appointments, not only for routine care, but especially for more urgent medical needs that are not serious enough to result in the loss of life, limb or eyesight without immediate treatment. Highly skilled nurses are available for telephone consultation during regular hours. Providers are on call after 4 p.m. weekdays and around the clock on weekends and holidays.