Military explores health care in Colorado Springs

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The Colorado Springs health care community is ramping up to ensure services are available for the 30,000 soldiers and dependents who are expected to move to the area during the next two years as part of the Defense Department’s base realignment plan.
Rear Adm. Nancy Lescavage is responsible for overseeing health care delivery to military personnel in Colorado.
“My purpose in coming to Colorado Springs was to meet with the commanders of our military hospitals and clinics to see first-hand their capabilities, and to ensure we are assisting them to fulfill their mission along with the efforts of TriWest, our civilian health care support contractor,” Lescavage said.
While most soldiers and their families use military hospitals and clinics for health care, some services are not available. For example, soldiers see dentists at the military treatment facility on Fort Carson, but family members must see civilian providers.
Family members also can choose to use private health care providers as part of the Tricare program, a civilian enterprise that provides health care and dental services to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, as well as their families.
The military is trying to determine how many more providers it will need.
“The military’s health care facilities are working with DoD’s leadership to identify the additional requirements with regard to military health care as additional service members and their families are relocated to Colorado Springs,” Lescavage said. “In addition, we continue to partner with TriWest to identify additional assistance needed in the civilian health care sector for the purpose of continuing to build a strong civilian provider network in the Colorado Springs area. It is important to know the growth in Colorado’s military population will come over time and not all at once. Right now we will continue to work with our military medical commanders as well to keep developing our capability to serve the military’s healthcare needs.”
Dan McIntyre, CEO of the TriWest Health Care Alliance and the ranking civilian in charge of the region’s military health care, said his group has been preparing for the influx of potential patients.
“We’ve added 4,260 health care providers to the network,” McIntyre said. “That’s an increase of 30 percent over a year ago. We’re adding them based on an analysis with the military, what we’ll need as we go forward.”
McIntyre said that having enough providers – doctors, nurses and other health care professionals – is always a challenge.
“There’s greater demand for them than supply,” he said. “It’s one reason we started this so early.”
Lescavage said the Department of Defense continually adds both civilian and military health care providers. Both active duty soldiers and their families could be referred to civilian doctors if necessary, she said.
“We have seen outstanding cooperation between the military health care leadership and the DoD health care support contractor – TriWest Healthcare Alliance – in determining the best place to obtain care for our beneficiaries,” she said. “ I am confident that in continuing to collaborate with our military health care commanders, TriWest and the local community, we will be able to provide for the health care of any additional troops.”
John Suits, associate administrator for business and government affairs at Memorial Health Systems, said the hospital is prepared to meet the needs of service members.
“I think the additions at the main campus and the new north hospital are going to be very timely,” Suits said. “These people aren’t going to just be in the south end of the county, they’re going to live throughout the county – and these new facilities will help meet the needs of that population.”
Suits said the challenge will come in getting primary care physicians to accept Tricare, whose reimbursement level is about 30 cents for every $1 spent. He said the hospital has discussed reimbursement issues with the Department of Defense and federal legislators.
“We understand that there are a limited number of dollars in the pot,” Suits said. “But the issue for families is going to be primary care – and the hospital has little control over whether physician community will accept the reimbursement. Increasing the reimbursement level would do a whole lot toward making sure families had the care they need.”
As the Army begins adding doctors and nurses to its hospitals and clinics, so are its civilian counterparts.
Memorial Health Systems is recruiting staff for its new hospital, Memorial Health Systems North, and the new hospital in Woodland Park also is seeking employees.
McIntyre said he and Lescavage would continue to analyze the information culled during the week-long trip, and make any necessary adjustments to the health care plan.
“We’re going to use all the resources we have to make sure everything is prepared and in place for the arrival of the soldiers,” he said. “They aren’t coming all at once, so we still have time to make sure the health care system will meet their needs. We’ll continue adding providers, and continue working closely with the other branches of the military and with the health care community.”
Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com