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TRICARE Puts Remote Locales on Prime Time

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 1999 – More than 80,000 active duty service members previously excluded from TRICARE Prime health care benefits because of their duty location now have Prime access.

Enrollment in TRICARE Prime Remote began Oct. 1, and by Jan. 1, 2000, officials expect to have reached most active duty service members not covered by Prime benefits. This includes recruiters, ROTC instructors and staff, communications specialists, officers enrolled in education programs with industry, acquisition specialists and others assigned away from military installations.

Fiscal 1998 legislation mandated development of the Prime Remote benefit to bring all active duty service members under the Prime umbrella. A key issue is ensuring remotely assigned individuals meet fit-for-duty requirements and are qualified for worldwide deployment, said Air Force Col. Rich Bannick, deputy chief operating officer of the TRICARE Management Activity.

To qualify for TRICARE Prime Remote, service members must reside and work more than 50 miles from a military medical treatment facility. Once they enroll, TRICARE Prime Remote will provide active duty service members with a TRICARE Prime-like benefit when they're stationed away from traditional sources of military health care.

The benefit also includes complete dental care equal to what service members assigned to military installations receive.

Enrollees in Prime Remote have a couple of choices of where to get their health and dental care, Bannick said.

"We want to be unobtrusive in ensuring they have unencumbered access to primary care," he said. "If TRICARE network providers are available, that's where we'd like them to go first. But there are probably going to be a lot of locations where there are no network providers. Then, they can choose any TRICARE- authorized primary care provider they wish."

Bannick added that it's important for new enrollees to select health care providers who participate in TRICARE; they'll process claims on behalf of the beneficiary.

Like others in Prime, Remote enrollees will need authorization to see a specialist or be hospitalized, Bannick said. They'll get that by calling their regional health care finder, listed in "Remote Controller," the TRICARE Prime Remote guide issued with enrollment forms and also on the TRICARE Remote Web site.

"By law, this program applies only to active duty members," Bannick said. "Our line leadership asked us to evaluate how this program might be extended to family members, and Congress asked us to report on how DoD might expand coverage to remote family members."

That's not to say family members at remote locations don't have access to health care, Bannick cautioned.

"They still have TRICARE Standard (CHAMPUS) coverage, as well as access to TRICARE Extra networks in some locations, including network retail pharmacies. Also, since July 1998, they've had the National Mail Order Pharmacy program for chronic medications." TRICARE managed care support contractors also have developed Prime networks in heavily populated areas, and these, too, are open to family members, he said.

So, despite base closures and fewer military medical facilities in the United States today, Bannick believes health care options actually have expanded for family members. "The only thing they don't have is a Prime Remote benefit, and we're working on the presentation of the issues and options, now," he said.

Enrollment guides and forms initially were sent to geographically separated units, which will continue to be the central point of contact for new enrollees. However, individuals can also request assistance directly from TRICARE regional offices, whose locations and telephone numbers are listed in the guidebook and on the Web.

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