The battle over Tricare pits the efforts of the Pentagon to contain the exploding cost of health care for nearly 10 million eligible beneficiaries against the pain and emotions of those who say they have already “paid up front” with service in uniform, particularly those who deployed to America’s two current wars. The 10 million figure includes active-duty personnel, retirees, members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families.
The arguments reflect the broader debate over the huge Pentagon budget that will intensify next year when Mr. Gates, who says he will step down in 2011, continues his campaign to cut off what he calls the “gusher” of defense spending. Total health care costs for the Pentagon, which is the nation’s single largest employer, top $50 billion a year, a tenth of its budget and about the same amount that it is spending this year on the war in Iraq. Ten years ago, health care cost the Pentagon $19 billion; five years from now it is projected to cost $65 billion.