Commentary: Take a look at military health insurance

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While few would want to deny any health insurance coverage to active military and veterans for treatment of service related ailments, the time may have come to look at other types of coverage.

Tricare, the military health insurance program, offers generous benefits to active military and their families. This is one of the reasons that the commander-in-chief recently decided that he wants to bar transgender people from the military. He said the cost of care for transgender soldiers is too much for the government to pay for, so his simplistic solution is to bar them from service.

We know that Trump is not a deep thinker and he does not do any research before he speaks. He was trying to fan the flames of his narrow-minded base by targeting transgender people. Most of the military leaders who spoke up after Trump's transgender exclusion tweet did not support their commander-in-chief.

But the fact that Trump brought up the issue of costs relating to military health care might be an issue worthy of exploration by better functioning minds. In a July 26 Washington Post article it was noted in reference to transgender related medical costs that, "The implication is that even in the most extreme scenario that we were able to identify we expect only a 0.13 percent ($8.4 million out of $6.2 billion) increase in health care spending," Rand's authors concluded.

By contrast, total military spending on erectile dysfunction medicines amounts to $84 million annually, according to analysis by the Military Times, 10 times the cost of annual transition-related medical care for active duty transgender service members. The military spends $41.6 million annually on Viagra alone, according to the Military Times analysis — roughly five times the estimated spending on transition-related medical care for transgender troops."

The time may have come to review health insurance coverage for the troops. If the government wants to trim its budget in a sensible way they could adopt a Medicare for all approach and do away with a separate health insurance program for the active military and veterans. And while they are at it they could put all of the Washington politicians into the same plan. If the entire country had the same health insurance you can bet your bottle of Viagra that coverage would be comprehensive and cost would be at a level of affordability.

All of these military issues led me to an exploration of pregnancy related coverage for military families. It turns out that the birth rate for the military is quite a bit higher than for the rest of the country. According to a government source, "The birth rate to military families has increased 5 percent since 1980, while the birth rate for the civilian population (residential population that is neither military personnel nor a dependent of someone in the military), dropped by 16 percent during the same period (1980-2011)."

Looking at Tricare coverage for pregnancy, it is clear why military people are having more babies. Their co-pays and deductibles range from $0 to $25 and the coverage is extremely comprehensive. Should taxpayers be footing the bill for military people who want to have more babies than the rest of us? Should maternity care be part of Tricare's coverage?

I don't think that supporting large families should be a perk of military service. The money that the government spends on non-military related care should be moved over to care for veterans who need support after they have suffered combat-related injuries and to build up the quality and capacity of veterans' hospitals and clinics.

Perhaps the more sensible minds in Washington will use the President's transgender rant as a stimulus to explore Tricare coverage and create a better health insurance system for all of us.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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