Bush to privatize military health staff

Bush’s Pentagon has announced a new privatization scheme for military physicians and other health personnel that goes along with its Iraq strategy of having private contractors perform heretofore routine U.S. military functions.

The delivery of medical and health care to military personnel is a major program. Medical and dental professionals provide care to over 8.9 million active military personnel, their dependents and retirees. Turning these health-related activities over to private contractors would be a major financial boon to many Bush supporters.

For example, take Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., a key Bush ally. Frist runs the largest chain of for-profit hospitals in the U.S., Columbia/HCA, which is a major player in the recently enacted Bush Medicare drug fiasco.

A number of Columbia/HCA officials are serving time in prison for Medicare fraud. The dots have yet to be connected between Columbia/HCA’s unlawful acts and its top corporate officials, including Frist.

A newly elected House and Senate should hold hearings that accurately describe Columbia/HCA’s corporate profit-making philosophy and its abuse of Medicare financing.

You can just imagine Frist’s company adding a military health arm to its existing business.

You might think that the current wave of corporate abuse and the jail sentences meted out to Columbia/HCA officials would preclude their participation in a privatized military medical program. But, with the current gang of White House scofflaws, it would seem to qualify them as fit-for-duty .

You can see the for-profit medical industrial complex licking its greedy chops at the thought of grabbing a federal budget item of $17.3 billion. That’s right — these are big bucks. There are now 40,648 civilians and 91,917 military personnel employed by this program. The privatization process alone has been allocated a budget of $35.8 million.

A recent Washington Post article detailed this under-the-radar White House initiative.

While the Post article didn’t spell this out, this conversion would directly affect the Veterans Administration hospital system, which is federally administered and accountable to Congress. The plan would directly affect all medical personnel in U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force bases, which are also under congressional scrutiny. Privatizing these services would mean the end of almost all public accountability.

The Pentagon says that battlefield medical personnel will still be employed by the federal government. But with the Iraqi war being used to test the use of private contractors as overseers of prisons and other purposes, the White House probably sees the complete privatization of medical services as a wise move that would advance the Bush agenda and at the same time pay back his biggest corporate contributors.

This privatization scheme should be vigorously opposed. Instead, greater emphasis should be placed on addressing the medical and public health needs of returning veterans, veterans of previous conflicts, and their dependents. Progressive-minded candidates who advocate such measures will be winners at the polls and appreciated by the U.S. people for a long time to come.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.