A sharing arrangement involving military and veterans health facilities in New Mexico has won support from a federal commission reviewing proposed military base closings.
The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission rejected Defense Department recommendations to end Air Force care in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital as part of streamlining at Kirtland Air Force Base outside Albuquerque, N.M.
The commission voted to close or streamline operations at more than 120 facilities, including a Denver Army hospital that was to manage the implementation of a military managed-care program in the West. But the commission voted to keep open 22 facilities Defense Secretary William Perry had proposed for closure or realignment. The commission, however, recommended closing seven other bases not on Perry's list.
The base closure list now goes to President Clinton, who has until July 15 to approve or reject it. If Clinton approves, he sends it to Congress, which has 45 days to reject the list or it automatically becomes law.
The Albuquerque Air Force-VA facility, which opened in 1987, was the first joint venture between VA and the military to build and operate a hospital as both government-run health systems try to deliver care more efficiently. One other joint hospital is operating and three others are planned.
Many experts in the military and veterans community considered Albuquerque a successful cooperative effort, and the Air Force pullout might have been a bad sign for the future of Pentagon-VA sharing agreements.
"It's a good deal for veterans, military retirees and CHAMPUS beneficiaries who use the facility," Richard Fuller, health policy program development director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, said of the Albuquerque decision. "This is a good sign that cooperation, at least in that area, will continue."
The commission agreed with the Pentagon that Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver should be closed. The decision will change how Denver-area retirees and beneficiaries covered by the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services, or CHAMPUS, will receive care.
The closing of Fitzsimons could snarl the rollout of the Pentagon's Tricare military managed-care program in the West. Fitzsimons was to administer Tricare for 12 Western states, with managed-care services scheduled to begin in November 1996.
The Army now is considering moving CHAMPUS-related facilities to a smaller base hospital at Fort Carson, south of Denver near Colorado Springs, Colo. Beneficiary groups feared that the move would complicate preparations for the Tricare contract.
Furthermore, because military retirees still covered by CHAMPUS won't be able to seek care at Fitzsimons, healthcare costs will increase for the Pentagon, said Charles Partridge, legislative counsel for the National Association for Uniformed Services, which represents about 160,000 military retirees.
"The sad part about it is (Fitzsimons) could be a money-saver," Partridge said. "If you farm all the patients out, you'll end up costing the government more."
Proposed base closings affecting military healthcare facilities
Base recommendation recommendation
Kirtland Air Force Base, New â– Mexico: End Air Force â– healthcare at â– Albuquerque VA â– hospital Stays open
Naval Medical Research Institute, â– Maryland: Close and move â– programs to other â– facilities Close
Brooks Air Force Base, Texas: Close base, â– including â– healthcare facility Stays open
Reese Air Force Base, Texas: Close base, â– including hospital Close
Onizuka Air Station, California: Close medical â– clinic in base â– streamlining Close
Naval Air Facility, Alaska: Close base, â– including hospital Close
Fort Lee, Virginia: End inpatient care â– at Army hospital Close
Fort Meade, Maryland: End inpatient care â– at Army hospital Close
Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, â– Colorado Close Close
Naval Health Research Center, â– California Close Stays open