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Air Force general appointed to head single military health agency

May. 1, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Defense Department on April 25 moved a step closer toward reshaping the Tricare Management Activity into a broader Defense Health Agency, naming and promoting Air Force Maj. Gen. Douglas Robb to head the new three-star directorate.

Robb co-chaired a DoD task force that reviewed the military health system’s structure and recommended creating a single defense health agency. The new body will be responsible for shared health care support services such as the Tricare program, pharmacy services, medical education and training, logistics, acquisitions, and research and development.

Scheduled to officially stand up on Oct. 1, the agency will operate under the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs but also is designated a combat support agency with oversight from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

In a 2012 memo, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon was able to draw on cost-savings lessons from consolidations at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., and the San Antonio Military Medical Centerto develop “changes to the governance of the military health system” in the form of a new agency.

“The reforms described ... are based on a belief that there are opportunities to realize savings in the military health system through the adoption of common clinical and business processes and the consolidation and standardization of various shared services,” Carter wrote.

Pentagon spokesman Cynthia Smith on Wednesday called military health system reform a departmental imperative, noting the Pentagon needed to manage its military treatment facilities and Tricare programs with “much greater integration.”

“We must adjust to the new reality of severe budgetary constraints by achieving a sustainable health program budget,” Smith said.

A government watchdog agency in October 2012 criticized the initiative, saying the Pentagon’s plan lacked specifics, including total cost and savings estimates.

Defense officials have said a DHA would save $50 million a year, with additional cost savings as duplicate services are eliminated.

Others opposed to the initiative included the Army, which favored creating a broader unified medical command that would have merged all the medical assets of the Army, Navy and Air Force into a single joint medical command.

The Navy and Air Force both supported the Defense Health Agency proposal.

DHA employees already have moved into consolidated offices located in Falls Church, Va.

Robb is a 34-year veteran who earned his medical degree from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1984. He will be leaving his post serving as staff surgeon for the Joint Chiefs.

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