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Lawmakers ask McHugh to save Drum health group funding

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WASHINGTON — Unable to secure funding on their own for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, two lawmakers Friday asked Army Secretary John M. McHugh to come to the aid of the organization he helped to establish as the north country’s congressman.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, wrote to Mr. McHugh, urging the Army to include funding for the FDRHPO in its budget request for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The budget request is due for release by the White House in early February, suggesting the Pentagon has been well along in the process. A spokeswoman for Mr. McHugh did not immediately return a message seeking comment about whether such items can be added to the budget request at this point.

“In our view, we have exhausted all other avenues to address their funding shortfall in the near-term,” the lawmakers wrote. They said the effort is “critical to the men and women of Fort Drum,” as well as to the community.

The FDRHPO, a network of north country hospitals serving the military population, was funded in part through congressional earmarks from 2005 to 2010. The organization used the money to support its operating budget, while gathering greater sums through grants for specific projects such as a network enabling hospitals to share patient information and expansion of medical staffs.

A self-imposed ban on earmarks in Congress has forced lawmakers to seek other ways to steer money toward the FDRHPO. Most recently, Mr. Owens and Mrs. Gillibrand tried to secure $500,000 in an annual defense bill but were foiled by the earmark ban.

The FDRHPO’s executive director, Denise Young, has said the organization can survive without the federal funding and has been planning on not receiving it.

Still, Mr. Owens and Mrs. Gillibrand have persisted in trying to restore it. They outlined for Mr. McHugh their efforts to date, including trying to convince the Tricare program — the military’s health insurance program — to include funding in its own budget.

The letter indicates an ongoing communication between the congressional offices and Tricare officials. Tricare officials have said spending constraints do not allow them to include the FDRHPO in the budget request. But they did agree to study whether the organization actually saves the Army money in the long run, as the FDRHPO asserts.

That review is ongoing. The lawmakers said they are concerned that the analysis will not be done in time to secure funding for the coming fiscal year.

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