‘Free’ Medical Care for Military

Amongst the many stories circulating about the suddenly-famous Rep. Joe Wilson (who once used caffeine!) is that he’s opposed to government provided health care for non-citizens in the United States in violation of our immigration laws* yet he and his son shamelessly take it just because they’re in the National Guard!  Indeed, this is apparently their “dirty little secret.”

He’s passionate! I know this because he told me, in the sole message that blazes across his campaign Web site: JOE WILSON IS PASSIONATE ABOUT STOPPING GOVERNMENT RUN HEALTH CARE!

Except that he’s not─at least not when it comes to his, and his family’s, government-run health care. As a retired Army National Guard colonel, Wilson gets a lot of benefits (one of which, apparently, was not a full appreciation of the customs, traditions, and courtesies that mandate respect for one’s commander in chief). And with four sons in the armed services, the entire Wilson brood has enjoyed multiple generations of free military medical coverage, known as TRICARE.

Yes, it’s true. As politicos and town-hall criers debate the finer points of the public option, employer mandates, coverage for undocumented immigrants, and who’s more Hitler-like, they seem to miss a larger point: the United States has single-payer health care. It covers 9.5 million active-duty servicemen and women, military retirees, and their dependents─including almost a 10th of all Californians and Floridians, and nearly a quarter of a million residents of Wilson’s home state.

Now, this is a fine retort to the notion that government can’t run an efficient health insurance program or, indeed, directly provide care.  (Although those with experience in the military system will tell you that it’s hardly problem free.)  See, n.b., Jon Stewart vs. Bill Kristol:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Kristol
www.thedailyshow.com

But it’s patently absurd to argue that, because your employer is providing benefits to you in exchange for your labor — let alone the very real danger of being sent to war for years on end, risking life and limb — that you’re a hypocrite if you oppose having the taxpayer provide them to everybody. Let alone to people who aren’t even citizens!

I’m only slightly less annoyed by the related trope that Congressmen who won’t vote to extend free health care to all citizens should give up their own taxpayer-provided benefits.  Our health care system has evolved as one where employers provide benefits for their workers.  For government workers — be they military personnel, file clerks at the Commerce Department, or Members of Congress — their employer is the United States taxpayer.  It simply doesn’t follow that taking the benefits agreed to as a condition of employment requires extending said benefits to non-employees.

As to the idea that Wilson’s shouting “You lie!” at the president was more than a rude outburst but a violation of  some obligation to the “commander-in-chief,” I give you Mr. Jim Henley.

_________
*Liza Sabater informs me that “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” are considered slur words; I struggle to find a compact alternative.

FILED UNDER: Health Care, Military Affairs, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    lousy assignments, long hours, deployments etc… trust me TRICARE is not a “free” single payer system.

  2. Jake P says:

    <>

    James, I hadn’t heard that one before, but that is astonishingly dumb logic.

    It’s only a half-bubble off from those who scream about the hypocrisy of seniors on Medicare being fearful of government-run healthcare, yet wanting to keep their benefits. It’s not hypocritical, it’s logical: My wife and I pay thousands of dollars into Medicare every year (and SS, which is even more infuriating). Why is it hypocritical that I would want to get those benefits that I’ve paid for while loathing the idea of expanding such programs?

    Then again, I’m a Generation Xer, so I know that money I’ve given USG will have either disappeared or been inflated into oblivion by the time I’m old.

  3. dave says:

    James, your logic defies reason! You are equating “free” military health care that isn’t even free to illegal alien healthcare? I am one of millions of current and former military members who have the right to healthcare based on serving at least 20 years and retiring from the military! We sacrifice our family life, our stable homes, and sometimes our lifes to protect and defend the constitution that guarantees the right for you to voice your idiotic thoughts! I would suggest that you serve something greater than your own self for once…why not joint the reserves or the guard and find out what it really takes to serve the country? It takes a spine, brains, courage, self-sacrifice, selflessness among other traits! Get a life loser!

  4. Herb says:

    “I struggle to find a compact alternative.”

    How about “non-citizen?” It’s compact and alternative. Although it doesn’t carry the negative connotations of “illegal,” it sure does sound PC!

    I find the whole illegal immigrant/non-citizen thing viz-a-viz healthcare reform to be a kind of red herring anyway. As Matt Yglesias pointed out the other day “Illegal immigrants might use it” is not a good argument against…anything.

    I’m still waiting for some brave soul to argue that we should stop giving free tax-payer healthcare to illegal immigrants incarcerated in American prisons. You know, take the “illegals might get it” arguments to the extreme. Now that would be funny.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Liza Sabater informs me that “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” are considered slur words; I struggle to find a compact alternative.

    How about the paper-work challenged? Victims of citizenship discrimination? Green card disabled?

  6. James Joyner says:

    How about “non-citizen?” It’s compact and alternative. Although it doesn’t carry the negative connotations of “illegal,” it sure does sound PC!

    Heh. The problem is that illegals are vast in number and presumably would be further incentivized to come here illegally if they’d get free world class healthcare.

    I find the whole illegal immigrant/non-citizen thing viz-a-viz healthcare reform to be a kind of red herring anyway. As Matt Yglesias pointed out the other day “Illegal immigrants might use it” is not a good argument against…anything.

    It’s not a “might” be a near certainty. And has to figure into one’s cost calculation for an entitlement program.

  7. Herb says:

    Dave needs to brush up on who he’s talking to…

    I read this and llol’d*.

    I would suggest that you serve something greater than your own self for once…why not joint the reserves or the guard and find out what it really takes to serve the country?

    Educate yourself, Dave.

    *Literally Laughed Out Loud. You know, the real thing. Not the “I didn’t laugh out loud, but I’m going to type lol anyway” thing.

  8. Jake P says:

    Herb@9:32, you said it all!

    Keep up the good fight, James.

  9. sam says:

    Good points, James, re military service and health care. But re Wilson, I find him on the wrong side in his votes on military health care (from your source):

    [A]ccording to his last congressional opponent, Wilson voted 11 times against health care for veterans in eight years, even as he voted “aye” for the Iraq War… He voted to cut veterans’ benefits—not his own—to make room for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. He repeatedly voted for budgets that slashed funding to the Veterans Administration and TRICARE. And perhaps most bizarrely, he refused—repeatedly—to approve Democratic-led initiatives that would have extended TRICARE coverage to all reservists and National Guard members, even though a disproportionate number of them have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan─and many lost access to their civilian work benefits when they did so.

  10. […] James Joyner smacks down the idea that having “free military healthcare” makes you some kind of hypocrite on the issue of government healthcare: But it’s patently absurd to argue that, because your employer is providing benefits to you in exchange for your labor — let alone the very real danger of being sent to war for years on end, risking life and limb — that you’re a hypocrite if you oppose having the taxpayer provide them to everybody. Let alone to people who aren’t even citizens! […]

  11. sam says:

    Let’s help Dave out here, guys:

    James served in the U.S. Army from 1988 to 1992 and is a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and numerous service medals and ribbons. He is a graduate of the Airborne and Air Assault schools. [Source]

    (I left out all the sissy PhD stuff).

  12. The reason “non-citizen” hasn’t been embraced as a euphemism for “alien unlawfully present in the United States” is because the word “non-citizen” applies too broadly. The term includes aliens who are lawfully present, either as lawful permanent residents or with non-immigrant visas.

    Keep in mind that we’re looking to find a short-hand term for an unwieldy phrase: “alien unlawfully present in the United States.” “Unlawful alien” makes them sound like criminals. “Illegal immigrant” is closer to the mark, but it ascribes to them a legal status–“immigrant”–that they do not actually have.

    The most straightforward term is “illegal alien.” They are, in fact, aliens (that is, non-citizens) and they are in the United States illegally. Ergo, they are illegal aliens.

  13. John Cole says:

    The number one systemic problem with health care in this country is that it is coupled to employment. Often, those who need the most care are unable to work, it cripples American industries (see GM, Chrysler, Ford), it hides the actual cost of health care from employees since their wages remain stagnant as health care costs rise, companies have an incentive to screw retirees and dump them on medicare, and so on.

    The way we have married health care coverage to employment has been and will remain disastrous. Again, it is a systemic failure.

  14. Michael says:

    James, if veterans and congressman were making the argument that government-managed health care should not be expanded to cover all citizens because those citizens are not entitled to it, that would be fine.

    However, the arguments I see is that government-managed health care is bad, and that it shouldn’t be expanded to cover all citizens because it is bad for all citizens, that is hypocrisy.

    Soon enough, you will find yourself telling your daughter that something you are eating (a cookie) or drinking (a soda) is “yucky” and that she doesn’t want to try it (it’s okay, we all do it), even though you are enjoying it, and she would probably safely enjoy it too. That is the picture I get, when someone enjoying government health care tells me that I wouldn’t want it.

  15. Leftists Are Losing the Healthcare Debate Because They Don’t Want to Talk About Healthcare…

    All anybody remembers from the President’s July healthcare press conference is that it was a boring retread of his previous statements and that he said the Cambridge police acted stupidly about five breaths after admitting he didn’t know the facts……

  16. Herb says:

    The problem is that illegals are vast in number and presumably would be further incentivized to come here illegally if they’d get free world class healthcare.

    This is no doubt true…

    But it’s also true that the main incentive for emigrating to the US illegally is that living here is, in the most general way possible, better than living there.

    The only way to tackle THAT problem is to either drastically improve the illegals’ country of origin (whatever it may be) or making life harder here in the states. Being neither a nation-builder or a police-stater, I support neither of these things. In fact, I say we make life better for us, and if the illegals pick up some scraps, well, it’s mostly for us anyway.

  17. Let’s help Dave out here, guys:

    James served in the U.S. Army from 1988 to 1992 and is a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and numerous service medals and ribbons. He is a graduate of the Airborne and Air Assault schools.

    Ouch, Dave! That must sting like the dickens! 😀

    Does your humiliation hurt? I sure hope so.

  18. Mike S. says:

    Wow.

    Its all I can say.

    🙁

  19. sam says:

    @Michael

    However, the arguments I see is that government-managed health care is bad, and that it shouldn’t be expanded to cover all citizens because it is bad for all citizens, that is hypocrisy.

    I think Michael nails it: Government-managed health care sucks for thee but not for me.

  20. Wayne says:

    Michael
    Who from the right has ever said we should do away with the VA system?

    Granted there have been many complaints about how inefficient and bloated with bureaucracy it is but obligation to veterans is a special case. Much of the improvements in the VA over recent decades have been the ability of Veterans to use private healthcare facilities but even that has been impeded with the need for a good deal more in additional paperwork since the VA is a government run program.

    Special cases sometimes call for additional efforts to get it done. That doesn’t mean that additional effort should be apply to every case especially if it can be done without the extra effort. Building a road that curves 30 miles north then back south is justified when going around a mountain. It isn’t on a flat plain and insisting it is a good idea because it was done in a special case doesn’t make it efficient.

  21. Michael says:

    Wayne,

    You’re proving my point. Veterans have a choice, VA or private. Congressman have the same choice. Which one gets picked more?

    Again, if you want to argue that it isn’t efficient/feasible/proper to give government health care benefits to everyone, go right ahead, that’s not hypocritical even if you are currently on government health care. But don’t try to tell people that they don’t want it, that they shouldn’t have the choice, while choosing it for yourself at the same time.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    Would the following from Rep Wilson, via Newsweek and Ezra Klein, at least nudge you toward accepting that the banner on his website, “JOE WILSON IS PASSIONATE ABOUT STOPPING GOVERNMENT RUN HEALTH CARE!” is hypocritical?

    “As a 31-year Army Guard and Reserve veteran, I know the importance of TRICARE,…The number of individuals who choose to enroll in TRICARE continues to rise because TRICARE is a low cost, comprehensive health plan that is portable and available in some form world-wide.” He went on to call TRICARE “world class health care,” concluding on a personal note. “I am grateful to have four sons now serving in the military, and I know that their families appreciate the availability of TRICARE,”.

  23. Joe Wilson: Healthcare Hypocrite

    The problem with Wilson’s position isn’t that he refuses to give up access to TRICARE or that he doesn’t want to fund coverage for uninsured Americans. Instead, for me at least, the problem lies in his condemning of government-run health services as compromising care and interfering with doctor/patient relationships, while praising TRICARE as one of the best health plans in the nation. The two positions cannot co-exist. Apparently, Wilson is the liar.

    This is important because people who oppose governmental plans have managed to convince a good chunk of the nation that these plans are inherently destructive of medical services, inefficient, and invasive. Yet, some of these same individuals utilize public plans (like Medicare and TRICARE). This is a greater indication of a “lie” than the illegal aliens question. Obama said that he has not proposed covering illegal aliens, and nothing indicates that he will.

    PS: The Newsweek article does not cover the issue as extensively as I have.

  24. mannning says:

    All the fancy phrases to designate Illegals as something more palatable is a waste. They are “Illegals” for short, or, at the very longest “Illegal Aliens.”

    Medical care for military personnel is factored into their entire compensation structure, as it should be. It is an earned benefit of service, and in some cases, it sucks.

    There is nothing hypocritical about a veteran wanting at least the same level of care as the rest of the population, and if he is dissatisfied with the VA because of poor care, he has every right to say so and to seek a better deal. He also has a right to be very cynical about government run health care for the rest of the population.

  25. Wayne says:

    Michael
    For one I choose private. It is a much better system overall except for special cases. Once again VA is due to a special set of circumstances. It is needed because of those circumstances including receiving severe injuries protecting this country and a government program was the best option to address those cases in the past. It has gotten much better since they have found ways to incorporate the private sector in the plans.

    “if you want to argue that it isn’t efficient/feasible/proper to give government health care benefits to everyone”

    That is what many of us are arguing. Putting everyone under the government program will be disastrous.

    If people want to be under a government program then they can join the military and fulfill the requirements in order receive those benefits. The people who get those benefits earn them. If they put in 20 years they also receive retirement benefits. Does that mean everyone should get the same benefits without putting in 20 years? Of course not.

  26. Wayne says:

    Hey why don’t we have handicap parking for all? It helps handicap people out so why not help everyone else out by giving them special parking places? If you are handicap and don’t like that idea then you are a hypocrite. (Sarcasm off)

    From the sound of many they don’t recognize special cases and\or unique situations. The fact that it won’t work doesn’t need to be brought up either.

  27. sam says:

    @Wayne

    Hey why don’t we have handicap parking for all?

    Dude, your attempt at comedy is hookable. Have you never heard that if it bends it’s funny, if it breaks, it’s not? That’s broke.

  28. Michael says:

    That is what many of us are arguing. Putting everyone under the government program will be disastrous.

    But why would it be disastrous? Almost all of the arguments I’ve heard is that it would be disastrous because it would be government run, not because it would cover everyone. I am told that the government can not properly run a health care program, that a government-run program would ration benefits and impose death panels, and all kinds of scary-government excuses.

    Yet, those same people who believe it would be disastrous because it would be government-run are also praising the quality of the government-run health care they already receive. As Darren said, the two opinions cannot co-exist.

  29. Crust says:

    I agree that there is nothing hypocritical about an opponent of government-run health care accepting government-run health care. But as gVOR08 pointed out, that’s at best an incomplete description of the issue here. And while gVOR08 came at that quote from Wilson singing the praises of government-run health care from a different source, note James that that quote is actually also in the piece you linked to.

  30. Crust says:

    Michael:

    Putting everyone under the government program will be disastrous.

    Why? That’s pretty much what we have in this country for people over 65 (Medicare). Indeed that’s a single payer system, so more radical even than a robust public option would be. Yet most people seem to think Medicare is pretty good. You even have Republicans — Michael Steele especially comes to mind — competing with Democrats to see who loves this single payer program more.

  31. mannning says:

    Good ole Medicare! It is soooo goood! So good that to meet my family’s medical bills, I must pay for supplemental @ $800 a quarter, and prescriptions @ $70 a month plus a copay. Without the supplemental and prescription coverage, my out of pocket med cost would soar to $18,000 a year or more.

    But good ole Medicare is better than nothing, I suppose, and they do negotiate some costs down from the rediculous to the hurtful. Take $500 billion out of Medicare, and my bills will go back to rediculous cost levels. A reduction in fraud and waste to make up the difference is chimerical.

    It seems from many attitudes I hear and read about, that a lot of healthy young and middle aged people are trying to make their opinions stick on the wall. They may have just passed the emotional era of “I will live forever,” and have no real conception of what old age does to the body. Not yet.