“Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive”

So says Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The cost of health care is blowing the top off the Pentagon’s budget.

Mirroring the private sector trend, expenses have skyrocketed within the military’s health system. The military spent $19 billion on health care in 2001 — and $49 billion in 2010. The Department of Defense forecasts a continued rise of 5% to 7% a year.

The bottom line: Health care will account for 10% of the Pentagon budget by 2015.

Meanwhile, fees for some of the 9.5 million active and retired service members who participate in the program haven’t risen since 1995.

Those eye-popping numbers have set alarm bells ringing, even inside the Pentagon.

“Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in May.

It’s not at all surprising that a government-run health care system would have massive cost overruns and/or shortages. You simply cannot provide an unlimited amount of health care on a finite budget, which is exactly why government-run health care is such a disaster in the first place. It’s why employer-based health care plans are in hot water as well.

There have got to be limits, but with third-party health care (employer-based or government) health care is essentially an all you can eat buffet. You can see a doctor whenever you want and outside of some out-of-pocket fees someone else (insurance/employer/government) picks up the tab.

Free markets work through price rationing. People buy only what they can afford. Suppliers try to make their products as affordable as possible so that people will buy more of them. These two forces combine to form a sort of equilibrium in the market. But if people can get all they want of a good or service without any (or at least limited) cost to themselves then they’re going to over consume.

And those picking up the tab are going to take the hit.

Whether we’re talking about the military or ordinary citizens, we have got to make health care an individual responsibility. Caring for our soldiers is part of their compensation. We need to make them whole again after they return from the fight, or as whole as they can be made, and we have a duty to provide them care care as veterans. But there have to be limits.

We’d be better off having the government contribute to something like a health savings account for each soldier after they retire, and allowing the soldiers to put their own money in as well. They can then manage that fund for their own care.

Again, our soldiers earn their health care benefits, but those benefits cannot be unlimited.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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