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Military Retirees Get Dental Plan With More 'Bite'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2000 – Military retirees asked for a more comprehensive dental plan, and now they have one.

As a result of retiree feedback, the enhanced TRICARE Retiree Dental Program went into effect Oct. 1 and adds more than 100 new procedures and extends eligibility criteria, said Navy Capt. Lawrence McKinley, TRICARE senior consultant for dentistry.

The new program supersedes one started in February 1998 that augmented "space-available" retiree dental care at military hospitals and clinics.

"The basic TRDP didn't cover all the dental needs of the retired community," McKinley said. After listening to retirees and cataloging their needs and requests over the past 18 months, he said, Delta Dental Plan of California, the insurance administrator; the TRICARE Management Activity; and the dental service chiefs worked together to determine the best program possible while keeping the premium costs affordable.

Eligible beneficiaries include:

  • Military retirees, including those over age 65;
  • Reserve members entitled to retired pay, but under age 60;
  • Spouses of retirees;
  • Children under age 21, or full-time students under age 23;
  • A nonremarried surviving spouse or eligible child of a deceased member or member who died while on active duty for more than 30 days and who aren't eligible for the TRICARE Dental Program.

The enhanced dental program also offers expanded eligibility, McKinley said. Now, members can enroll a spouse or child without enrolling themselves provided they have documented proof that they are:

  • Eligible to receive dental care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Enrolled in an employers' dental plan that isn't available to family members.
  • Unable to obtain benefits from the TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan due to a current and enduring medical or dental condition.

McKinley, a Navy Dental Corps officer since 1971, said the 114 new procedures make the enhanced TRICARE plan "a very comprehensive dental program now." New services include crowns and bridges, full and partial dentures, orthodontics, and allowance for composite-resin --"white" -- fillings in the back teeth, a second annual cleaning, and dental accident coverage for traumatic injury.

About the only things not covered in the new program are certain extremely expensive procedures such as dental implants, he added.

The new services come at a price. Beneficiaries will pay about double for the enhanced coverage under the new dental plan, McKinley said. Monthly premiums, dependent upon geographic region, range from $21 to $34 for one person; $40 to $65 for two; and $62 to $105 for a family of three or more.

The rates are good until Jan. 31, 2003, when new contract bids are scheduled. However, additional DoD-directed enhancements could increase those premiums.

"We asked beneficiaries through surveys whether they would be willing to pay more for an enhanced program, and 62 percent said yes," McKinley said. "In fact, over 20 percent said they would be willing to pay more than double the old premium for an enhanced program.

"The benefit package doubles the number of procedures found in the basic plan. That is a very good value and is very comparable to the best of the civilian programs," he added.

Enrollment in the new program began Sept. 1, and should top the 500,000-plus beneficiaries that participated in its predecessor, McKinley said. Expanded eligibility rules should reach an estimated 4.2 million retirees and family members, he added.

So far, 45,000 people have signed up for the enhanced program, McKinley said. Those enrolled agree to stay with the program for at least 24 months. New enrollees who change their minds can quit within the first 30 days provided they haven't used any program benefits.

McKinley said enrollment in the basic dental program ceased Aug. 31. Basic program beneficiaries, he said, may continue coverage under the old program with no change in terms or upgrade to the enhanced program.

The retired military beneficiaries who will use the enhanced dental program range in age "from 38 to 108 … and are a very significant part of our business," McKinley said.

"We value the retiree community and are concerned about their overall dental health," he added. "I think they have confidence that Uncle Sam, that DoD, that TRICARE are looking out for their best interest" to establish the best retiree dental program possible.

"And we have worked very hard to do that," he concluded.

To determine eligibility for the enhanced TRICARE Retiree Dental Program, or monthly premium rates per region, call Enrollment Services toll-free at 1 (888) 838-8737. Visit the TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan Web site at www.ddpdelta.org for more information.

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