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Seniors' Health Care Launches in San Antonio

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 1998 – Two military medical centers in San Antonio, Texas, opened their doors for the first time Oct. 1 to military retirees over age 65 enrolled in the new TRICARE Senior Prime health plan.

The Air Force's Wilford Hall Medical Center and cross-town partner Brooke Army Medical Center welcomed the new patients with the assistance of DoD health chief Dr. Sue Bailey. In remarks at Wilford Hall, Bailey said TRICARE is the way for DoD to move forward and continue to provide the best quality care in a time of financial constraints.

"This ceremony marks the beginning of a new era in caring for our senior beneficiaries in San Antonio," Bailey said. "Joined by military beneficiaries and the many associations that represent them, we have worked for years to achieve the program demonstration that begins here today."

Wilford Hall-Brooke, along with Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Wash., were the first of six sites to launch a demonstration of DoD's capability to provide health care cost-effectively to patients over 65. Scheduled to run through 2000, the demonstration could lead to worldwide care for thousands of Medicare-eligible beneficiaries who aren't otherwise eligible for TRICARE enrollment. Instead, they can receive military medical care on a space-available basis.

For the demonstration, participating medical centers and hospitals will enroll a limited number of Medicare-eligible retirees and their spouses. Wilford Hall and Brooke each enrolled 5,000. The enrollment represents "a big step forward in keeping the promise of military health care to our retirees over 65, our great American patriots," said Dr. (Maj. Gen.) Paul Carlton, Wilford Hall commander.

Tightening budgetary belts in both the civilian and military health care systems usually means doing more with less, Carlton said. As a result, he said, the military has found it increasingly difficult to provide space-available health care to "dual-eligibles," patients eligible for Medicare and military health care. He and other health care leaders hope TRICARE Senior Prime is the answer. Instead of space-available care, Carlton said, senior retirees "deserve nothing less than 'space required.'"

"Providing health care for our older retirees is a major challenge," Bailey said. "We are committed to meeting this challenge, to 'take care of our own.'"

Other sites selected for the three-year demonstration are Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; Fort Carson-Air Force Academy, Colo.; Naval Medical Center San Diego; and Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Details are available at the demonstration sites and on the TRICARE Web site at http://www.ha.osd.mil. (Air Force 1st Lt. Stephen Thompson, Wilford Hall Public Affairs Office, contributed to this report.)

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