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Family Dental Plan Joins TRICARE, Services Remain Constant

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 17, 1996 – The name changed, but DoD's Family Member Dental Plan still provides low-cost access to a broad network of civilian dentists.

Initially called the Dependent Dental Plan, Delta Dental administered the program. United Concordia Companies, Inc. won the contract last year and began administering the plan under its new name Feb. 1.

Beneficiaries should not have noticed any change, according to Diana Tabler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for health services financing. Those already enrolled with Delta were automatically transferred to United Concordia, and payroll deductions continued automatically.

If anything, existing participants should have noticed the reduced premiums produced by market competition, Tabler said. Instead, they tended to perceive shortcomings, she said. For example, whereas Delta Dental offered a network of more than 100,000 dentists, United Concordia offers fewer than half that many.

"That's because Delta included a large commercial network in big urban areas where not a lot of military family members reside," Tabler explained. "[United Concordia], on the other hand, has worked hard to establish providers around places where our families actually live."

The name TRICARE confused people, too -- retirees, for example, officials said. While they are eligible for medical care under DoD's managed health care plan, military retirees don't qualify for dental care. Active duty service members receive their dental care at military treatment facilities.

"We added the TRICARE label because [it] is a comprehensive health benefit," Tabler said. "It's not unusual for an organization to offer different benefits to various segments of its population. TRICARE incorporates everything DoD is doing in the health care arena and represents our comprehensive care and concern for all beneficiaries."

During the first few months of the current contract, United Concordia fell behind on claims payments, Tabler admitted, "but they are making satisfactory progress. Overall, we're satisfied with their service."

Tabler said recently announced premium increases were programmed. On Aug. 1, single premiums rise from $6.77 per month to $7.19, and family premiums go from $16.92 to $17.97. July leave and earnings statements will reflect the increases. The monthly premium deducted from active duty members' pay represents 40 percent of the total premium cost for the plan. The government picks up the other 60 percent.

Even with the increases, Tabler said, the premiums are lower than under the previous contract. United Corcordia's bid was $112 million less than Delta Dental's, she said.

While Tabler favorably rates United Concordia, she said people shouldn't hesitate to voice problems they encounter. She urged people to use the contractor's toll-free number, (800) 866-8499, or write to:

United Concordia Companies, Inc.

Customer Service, P.O. Box 898218

Camp Hill, PA 17089-8218.

They also can contact local health benefits advisers at military medical facilities for information and assistance.

More than 80 percent of eligible families are enrolled in the dental plan, Tabler said, but far fewer use the benefit fully. "For example, the plan provides free preventive exams for children," she said. "Unfortunately, not a lot of enrollees use this service.

"Dental health is an important part of a person's overall health and well-being," she continued. "I strongly encourage eligible adults and children to fully participate in this program."

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