Military hospitals bear brunt of sequester

Furloughs due to the sequester have hit military hospitals particularly hard, forcing patients to go to private medical centers and in many cases, delaying treatment, USA Today reports.

An internal memo to military hospital "colleagues" said inpatient beds are in "critically short supply" because sequestration or federal spending cuts triggered thousands of civilian staff furloughs, according to the article. The memo urges "dispositions/discharges as soon as possible."

The automatic cuts run especially deep for the Army, which has the largest medical system with the military. USA Today reports all but 6,600 of its 44,000 civilian medical workers are being furloughed.

"The impact on morale is huge," Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, commander of 11 Army hospitals in the western United States, told the newspaper. In fact, he said many healthcare staff have quit to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

And patients are paying the price. Thomas said in the first month of furloughs, 10,000 routine patient appointments in the western Army medical region were delayed due to staffing shortages. Instead, existing staff are focusing their attention on the most serious combat wounded and complex medical cases.

Ironically, Thomas told the newspaper that by sending patients to a network of private doctors who contract with the government for services, the Pentagon will end up spending more money to compensate for the automatic spending cuts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported the House of Representatives on Friday voted to strip the Internal Revenue Service of its power to enforce the healthcare reform law, a move that may result in a possible showdown over funding for the measure that threatens to shut down the government this fall.

For more:
- read the USA Today article