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TRICARE for Life Ready to Kick Off Oct 1

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 20, 2001 – "TRICARE for Life is green -- all signs are go" for the program to begin as scheduled Oct. 1, Air Force Col. Frank Cumberland said.

"It's going to happen. It's funded. Let's press on," said Cumberland, director of communications and customer service at the TRICARE Management Agency here.

The TRICARE for Life program extends TRICARE benefits to military retirees who are over age 65 and Medicare- eligible. The fiscal 2001 National Defense Authorization Act directed DoD to extend the medical coverage to this previously ineligible population.

For eligible retirees and their spouses who are over age 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B, TRICARE will become a second payer to Medicare starting Oct. 1. This will end their need to pay many out-of-pocket expenses, and most will probably conclude they no longer need to buy "Medigap" supplemental insurance, TRICARE officials said.

The only requirements for beneficiaries are that they check their enrollment information in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System to ensure its accuracy and that they be enrolled in Medicare Part B.

All but about 70,000 of the 1.5 million retirees eligible for TRICARE for Life are enrolled in Medicare Part B, said Steve Lillie, TRICARE's director of over-65 benefits. Those 70,000 can take care of business during Medicare's next general enrollment period of January through March 2002, he said.

As individuals start to use the program, questions are bound to crop up. Lillie recommended beneficiaries take full advantage of the newly expanded TRICARE for Life call center at toll-free 1-888-DOD-LIFE (1-888-363-5433). He also said beneficiaries can use this number to help educate healthcare providers who are unsure of the expanded benefit.

"There are people there who can explain the program to the provider," he said. The call center staff helped many people iron out details when the TRICARE Senior Pharmacy Benefit began in April. "We'd have a three-way call with the beneficiary, the pharmacist and the call-center representative, helping them through the process and acquainting them with the program," Lillie said.

Lillie wanted beneficiaries to know the program will begin on schedule even if Congress and the president don't pass a fiscal 2002 Defense Appropriations Act by Oct. 1.

"The program will start even under a continuing resolution because it is an expansion of an existing program to new beneficiaries rather than a brand-new program that might be affected by the rules in a continuing resolution," he said.

Lillie also said he believes TRICARE for Life will continue to be fully funded in the future. "The bills that enacted TRICARE for Life passed the House and Senate by overwhelming majorities, and there is no indication of any diminished support for the principles embodied in it," he said.

Program officials said beneficiaries can get more information on TRICARE for Life and on checking their DEERS enrollment status by visiting the TRICARE Web site at www.tricare.osd.mil, or by calling 1-888-DOD-LIFE (1-888- 363-5433).

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