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TRICARE Marketing Honored, Future Efforts Mapped

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 7, 1997 – The DoD TRICARE marketing program won a 1997 Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America for successfully educating more than 8 million people about the military health care plan.

Ninety-two commercial and government public relations programs were selected as finalists from among 630 entries. DoD's "Launching TRICARE" took top honors in the internal communications, associations, government or nonprofit organizations category. Former marketing director, retired Army Lt. Col. Kathyrn Ingram, accepted the first place award at a banquet in New York June 12.

"The Silver Anvil is the top achievement award in our business," Ingram said. "To be recognized as the best by your peers is the ultimate compliment and resulted from a real team effort within [the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs], the military services and with Fleishman-Hillard, our commercial partners."

Air Force Maj. John Slauson, deputy marketing director, attributed the award to "our ability to change attitudes and self-proclaimed awareness and understanding of TRICARE" by beneficiaries. He said his office, in conjunction with its public relations agency, developed brochures, videos and other marketing products and conducted research that resulted in "60-70 percent [of beneficiaries] now saying they have an understanding of TRICARE."

Despite national recognition of TRICARE marketing initiatives, Slauson said DoD can do a better job spreading the word on military health care. "If 60-70 percent say they understand TRICARE, that means 30-40 percent say they don't understand. If that's so in areas where TRICARE exists, we've got a lot of room to improve," he said.

Past disjointed marketing efforts have hindered understanding of the program, Slauson said. "We need a core marketing strategy to give our efforts a similar look and message," he said.

Slauson said future marketing efforts should focus on TRICARE Prime, the premium benefit under the plan and the part of TRICARE that most closely resembles a health maintenance organization. Under Prime, enrollees are assigned to a primary care manager, either in a military or contractor medical treatment facility. Active duty members are automatically enrolled in Prime, and their family members can elect enrollment at no annual cost. Military retirees must pay an annual enrollment fee of $230-$460.

"We need to evaluate current products and develop new products that market TRICARE Prime," Slauson said. "And because people must re-enroll annually, we have to keep up a constant flow of information."

Besides marketing TRICARE to beneficiaries, Slauson said military medics, themselves, need a better understanding of the plan they're charged to administer. He foresees a core curriculum that teaches medics how TRICARE works, principles of managed care and customer relations.

Commanders, too, play a critical role in TRICARE's success, the major said. "Our goal is to bring every beneficiary to a common understanding of TRICARE, and we need command support to make this happen," he said.

"For example, the Army's Training and Doctrine Command developed a brochure that explains the benefits of Prime, that will be distributed to every soldier." Like other field training manuals soldiers carry, the TRICARE brochure is sized to fit in the shirt pocket of battle dress utilities. "We believe soldiers will take the books home with them, and that will get the information on TRICARE Prime to their spouses," Slauson said.

A second example comes from Colorado, where the commander at Fort Carson asked for a list of all soldiers in his unit whose families aren't enrolled. We don't have the database to do that, but his concern shows an understanding of the relationship between TRICARE and military readiness," Slauson said,. "His unit frequently deploys en masse, and that commander wants to be sure families left behind are taken care of.

"Taking care of all beneficiaries is what TRICARE's all about," Slauson said. "That's why our job [of marketing the plan] can't let up."

Additional information about TRICARE is available on the Internet at http://www.ha.osd.mil/tricare/mrkt/whattric.html, or call the TRICARE Marketing Office at (703) 681-6145 or DSN 761-6145.

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