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TRICARE for Life Celebrates First Anniversary

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

FALLS CHURCH, Va., Oct. 17, 2002 – DoD celebrated the one- year anniversary of TRICARE for Life here Oct. 1 with officials calling the program the most sweeping improvements to the DoD health care system in nearly 30 years.

The TRICARE for Life - Medicare Part B Connection

By Rudi Williams

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2002 -- TRICARE for Life last year expanded military health benefits for all Medicare-eligible retired beneficiaries age 65 and older, but only if they're enrolled in Medicare Part B, officials emphasized.

Medicare is a two-part health insurance program. Part A helps pay for inpatient hospital care, critical access hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice care and some home health care. Premiums are prepaid through Medicare contributions taken from paychecks.

Part B is optional and costs $54 a month this year. It helps pay for medically necessary doctors' services, outpatient hospital care, and some other medical services such as physical and occupational therapists, and some home health care. It doesn't cover prescription drugs, but TRICARE for Life does.

For more online information about Medicare, visit www.medicare.gov/Basics/WhatIs.asp.

For more information about enrolling in Medicare Part B, visit the Social Security Administration Web site at www.ssa.gov or call toll free 1-800-772-1213, TTY/TDD: 1-800-325-0778.

For online TRICARE for Life eligibility criteria and other information, visit www.tricare.osd.mil.  

"The most rewarding thank yous come from our beneficiaries themselves, such as Lucille Rutkowski who wrote to us about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 75," Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told the audience. "Having TRICARE for Life allows her to concentrate on improving her health care while Medicare and TRICARE tend to her bills, including our program for medications. We have the Senior Pharmacy Program in place to meet her needs."

There are 1.5 million eligible TRICARE for Life beneficiaries, a DoD health care official estimated. In the first year of the program, DoD paid more than 30 million claims at a cost of $1.7 billion, she said.

Beneficiaries don't have to enroll in TRICARE for Life to use it, but they do have to participate in Medicare Part B, the official said. Medicare automatically sends the part of the bill it doesn't pay to TRICARE.

TRICARE for Life was included in the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act. It restores military health benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees and their spouses and other qualifying dependents. Beneficiaries must be age 65 or older, have a valid military identification card, and be enrolled in Medicare Part B and the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.

TRICARE for Life is free while the Medicare Part B monthly premium is normally $54 this year and subject to change in 2003. The premium is automatically deducted from social security checks.

Winkenwerder also praised the Senior Pharmacy Program for saving money for TRICARE for Life patients.

"The pharmacy program began over a year ago on April 1, 2001," he noted. "It, too, has been an unparalleled success. It's really a world-class capability for us. In its first year, the Senior Pharmacy Program filled 11.6 million prescriptions for older beneficiaries."

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard D. Murray, representing the National Military and Veterans Alliance, called TRICARE for Life the "most outstanding program in DoD history for retirees."

The program has fostered a new and open relationship between military associations, health affairs and TRICARE Management Activity, Murray told the audience at the one- year celebration.

Murray said Viola Jones, an elderly Medicare and TRICARE for Life beneficiary, saves $225 per month, or more than $3,000 per year, in health care-related expenses. "This savings resulted in a 30 percent increase in her yearly income," the retired general said.

He quoted Jones as saying, "My husband, a retired staff sergeant, is deceased and I never learned to drive, so it has been a godsend. Thank you with all my heart."

"The success of this program over the past year is directly attributable to TRICARE Management Activity's desire to make it work," Murray said.


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, calls TRICARE for Life and the Senior Pharmacy Program world-class programs for beneficiaries who are aged 65 or older. Photo by Rudi Williams.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRetired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard D. Murray of the National Military Veterans Alliance said TRICARE for Life is successful because the TRICARE Management Activity wanted to make it work. Photo by Rudi Williams.  
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