A key House panel has approved a bill that would add $475 million to the Clinton administration's military healthcare spending request for fiscal 1997.
Meanwhile, a House subcommittee was considering a bill nudging the Indian Health Service budget upward by 1.8%. And the full House has approved more than $400 million in major construction projects for Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.
Key Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee are trying to cover what is believed to be a shortfall of more than $400 million in the Pentagon's healthcare budget request by approving a healthcare budget increase of $475 million. That increase is part of nearly $1 billion in military "quality-of-life enhancements" the committee approved last week.
Under the committee-approved bill, the Pentagon's healthcare budget for fiscal 1997, which begins Oct. 1, would be $9.9 billion, up just $32.7 million from fiscal 1996. The administration's request was for less than $9.4 billion.
Beneficiary groups said they fear that if the budget is not increased to at least $9.8 billion, military healthcare facilities would be forced to deny care to dependents of active-duty personnel and retirees, who make up the bulk of patients at military hospitals and clinics.
In particular, Medicare-eligible retirees fear they could be turned away from 120 military hospitals and 500 clinics in increasing numbers with no alternative but to rely on Medicare to pay for healthcare at private-sector providers. That's because they aren't eligible to enroll in the Tricare military managed-care system now being implemented across the country.
Defense Department officials say they spend $1.4 billion per year to care for 230,000 Medicare-eligible retirees at military hospitals. Those retirees are eligible for care when space is available.
The Indian Health Service budget would be boosted by $32 million in fiscal 1997 to nearly $1.8 billion under a bill being considered last week by the House Appropriations interior subcommittee. That amount falls short of the Clinton administration request by $106 million.
On a voice vote, the full House passed a bill authorizing $422.3 million in VA construction projects at 21 healthcare facilities. Ten of the projects are aimed at improving inpatient settings, six are outpatient additions and two are ambulatory-care improvements. Three projects in California are related to earthquake safety.