Army Examines Possibility of Private Medical Contractor

By Walter Pincus
Monday, September 3, 2007

Whom do you turn to when the enormous number of military contract employees in Iraq creates problems for the U.S. Army as it tries to fight there?

Another contractor, of course.

Military medical treatment facilities in Iraq have been overwhelmed trying to handle routine health-care problems for some of the more than 129,000 people working for U.S. and coalition force contractors. As a result, the U.S. Army is trying to determine whether a private medical contractor is willing to take over the job.

Last week, Joint Contracting Command-Iraq provided details on its July 27 Request for Information (RFI W91GDW-07-R-4024), titled "Civilian Contractor Hospital Services throughout Iraq." It asks whether private health-care providers might be interested in establishing "medical treatment facilities at Forward Operating Bases throughout Iraq that would provide medical treatment to contractors working with the coalition forces."

The purpose of any contract was bluntly stated: "This concept would free up military hospitals to concentrate on military casualties."

The military's problem is obvious. As explained in additional information supplied Aug. 28, most contractors don't provide health care for their employees, and care is not authorized at military facilities except when a life is at stake.

"Nonetheless," the Army said, "military treatment facilities have been rendering routine health care to civilians, with civilian care making up approximately 17% of the outpatient healthcare visits."

Many U.S. noncombat activities in Iraq are performed by contractors. In supplying background information, the Army recognized that "the exact number of contractors who need and desire routine health care services is unknown." For guidance, however, it disclosed that there were "approximately" 750 routine civilian health-care visits per month at military treatment facilities on three U.S. bases in Iraq.

Camp Anaconda, a large Army logistics and operating base, chalked up another 300 civilian visits per month, and there were 400 in the Green Zone at the Embassy clinic and combat support hospital.

The Army believes that health-care facilities, "including radiological, laboratory and pharmacy ancillary services" would "benefit the contractor population," which is nearly as large as the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq. According to one estimate, more than half are Iraqis, some 20 percent are American citizens and about 30 percent are from another country.

Prospective providers would "need to make their own arrangements to establish health care facilities on a forward operating base," including staffing and equipping the clinic, according to the Army. It also warns that "the provision of life support will also be the responsibility of the company establishing the health care facility."

According to recent reports, there are dozens of U.S. bases in Iraq and about 90 forward operating bases. "Whoever bids on this will have to team up with a security partner," said one veteran of the Iraq war who is now in the contracting business.

Recognizing the daunting nature of the task, the Army proposal makes clear that currently the Pentagon is looking only for "feedback from interested, responsible parties for the purpose of investigating the feasibility" of such a program.

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them

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