This month Tricare For Life celebrates its first anniversary of providing wraparound coverage to Medicare for more than 1.5 million uniformed services retirees, family members and survivors. "These new health care benefits have dramatically improved the quality of life for our Medicare-eligible retirees and their families," said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director, Tricare Management Activity. "In our first year, we have received over 30 million claims, and paid out more than $1.7 billion in health care benefits," he said.
Beneficiaries have written letters of thanks and admiration for the new program. One of Tricare For Life's earliest users, Lucille Rutkowski, said the program not only restored her faith in government but also gave her the will to go on after being diagnosed with breast cancer, following 75 years of good health. With Tricare For Life, Rutkowski was able to concentrate on getting well while the automatic cross-over between her Medicare and Tricare claims took care of the financial aspects of her care.
"The 'behind-the-scenes' story that ensured a successful implementation of this program was the unprecedented cooperation and mutual assistance between the government, the private sector companies that help deliver Tricare benefits, and the beneficiary associations who are in regular communication with their members," stated Winkenwerder. Eligibility and claims processing issues were quickly identified by the beneficiary groups, communicated to the government, and resolved.
The Department of Defense conducted a recent survey of Tricare For Life users to find out how they were receiving information about their health benefits and if these sources were helpful. The number-one source of Tricare For Life information was the beneficiary letter that DoD mailed prior to the program start date (according to 85 percent of respondents). Uniformed services publications were the number-two source for health benefits information, followed by the Tricare For Life telephone help line, civilian publications, beneficiary counseling and assistance coordinators, Medicare and the Social Security Administration, health care providers and the Tricare Web site. The majority of respondents rated most of these sources as "very helpful."
According to Winkenwerder, "The Tricare For Life program and the partnerships it generated are now benchmarks for DoD program success - and perfectly complement the Tricare Senior Pharmacy Program, which was implemented April 1, 2001." In its first year of operation, the Tricare Senior Pharmacy Program filled 11.6 million prescriptions with low-out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for Medicare-eligible DoD beneficiaries age 65 and over.
For beneficiary Clarence Creel, who uses both Tricare For Life and the Tricare Senior Pharmacy Program, his annual saving on health care premiums and prescriptions tops $6,000.
As Tricare For Life enters its second year of operation, Tricare Management Activity is making continued efforts to reach beneficiaries who may not know of the rich benefits and potential savings available to them. For more information on the program, interested parties are encouraged to call 1-888-DoD-LIFE (1-888-363-5433), or visit the Tricare Web site at http://www.tricare.osd.mil/tfl/.