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Military Healthcare Reform: DoD to Stabilize MHS

The Department of Defense wants to overhaul the military healthcare system and re-attract patients (who previously chose a non-military care option) back to military medical waiting rooms.

In early December 2023, the Deputy Secretary of Defense signed a memorandum “directing the stabilization of the Military Health System,” requiring military hospitals to “add capacity to reattract patients and beneficiaries, improve access to care in military hospitals and clinics, and increase opportunities to sustain military clinical readiness for medical forces.”

This announcement comes shortly after a similar DoD statement on an attempt to bring military healthcare system beneficiaries back to military-sourced healthcare and away from private, third-party care providers.

The goal in this particular effort? Bring back “at least 7% of those now receiving medical care through TRICARE by the end of 2026, according to an article published by Military.com

Why Change the Military Healthcare System (MHS)?

The DoD memo written by Robyn Mincher, Military Health System Communications, notes, “The need to stabilize the MHS is clear.” There have been many challenges in the DoD care of beneficiaries, and Mincher observes that mission-critical medical teams were negatively affected by volatility in healthcare in years past.

The pandemic is one of the factors that put pressure on DoD healthcare systems around the world.

“Coming out of COVID-19, there were capacity constraints across all health systems in both the United States and peer nations,” The memo adds, “Health-seeking behaviors changed as well as the demands on the war fighters and readiness … health systems worldwide could not keep up.”

Now, federal officials want decisive action toward major reforms of the military healthcare system to fix that.

Related: Ultimate TRICARE Guide

A Five-Year Plan

A document known as the MHS Strategic Plan covering operations from 2024 to 2029 discusses ways to address the challenge of meeting mission requirements while balancing the care needs of beneficiaries. The plan emphasizes obtaining and maintaining “a stable, predictable workforce” with sufficient training and availability.

How DoD Wants To Stabilize the Military Healthcare System

The memo says part of the effort to reform the system involves “increasing medical personnel delivering care” to “optimize capacity.”But first, there must be a comprehensive review of DoD-level medical staffing. Another part of the initial effort? Reimagining how military personnel are assigned to care centers.

A short-term “redistribution” of medical personnel is designed to “boost capacity at a few key locations to begin no later than July 1, 2024.” Civilian staffing policies are also expected to change.

A Push To Bring Troops and Families Back to Military Clinics

A big part of the reforms discussed above involves bringing people back to military hospitals as opposed to seeking care from third parties. The DoD wants to attract patients back to on-post options and similar choices for healthcare.

Was there an exodus from military-provided care? What was the issue forcing this federal review of who gets healthcare from which source?=

A shortage of military and civilian medical staff on base and at military-affiliated clinics forced many to explore other options. And in the eyes of some defense officials, more staff is part of the key to getting people back to care directly from the MHS.

But does this mean patients will be forced to choose between their current care provider or the military equivalent?

According to Defense.gov, “The Defense Department does not plan to ask any patients to change their health plan or their doctor.” DoD goals include making the MHS “more accessible to make getting care at military hospitals or clinics the easiest, simplest choice.”

Related: Ultimate TRICARE Guide

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.