DoD Health Official Details TRICARE Progress
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
FALLS CHURCH, Va., Oct. 25, 2002 Edward P. Wyatt Jr., principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said TRICARE, including TRICARE for Life and the Pharmacy Data Transaction Service, is working hard to provide outstanding benefits for active duty service members, retirees and their eligible family members.
The DoD health affairs deputy said today's biggest challenge is satisfying beneficiaries. One project involves a round of contracts that requires improved systemwide accountability and performance, and a fresh approach and focus on customer satisfaction, Wyatt noted.
"Satisfying our customers has always been important to us. But for the first time, incentives for the contractors are linked directly to the extent to which they satisfy their customers," he said. Satisfaction also means as much outreach as possible. He said outreach was particularly important for the implementation of TRICARE for Life.
"The overwhelming set of issues we encountered in the beginning related to other health insurance (providers)," Wyatt noted. "Hard as you try, you just can't reach everybody with the message. Many people didn't trust that the (TRICARE) benefit was going to be made available on time and that it would be as extraordinary as it is. So they held off dropping their other insurance (policy). Once they saw that the benefit was working as advertised, they dropped their other health insurance."
Reaching out for satisfaction includes those elderly and immobile beneficiaries who aren't aware of what TRICARE can do for them. Wyatt said some of them are in nursing facilities and have been out of contact with the military, particularly with the military health system, for years.
"They've always been eligible," Wyatt said. "We can help them demonstrate their eligibility by getting them re- enrolled in DEERS, up-to-date ID cards or some other registry mechanism so they don't have any glitches."
One requirement in the new generation of contracts calls for Medicare beneficiaries under age 65 to be able to use TRICARE as secondary health insurance without having to file paperwork.
Wyatt also dubbed the Pharmacy Data Transaction Service "an enormous breakthrough," noting small hospital systems around the country use a similar system all the time. "But to apply it to a system of 75 hospitals, numerous clinics and every retail outlet in the contract network is huge," he said.
The pharmacy service uses state-of-the-art technology to link patient information between pharmacies at military treatment facilities, the National Mail Order Program and civilian retailers that are part of the TRICARE managed-care network.
Officials said the linking of prescription information improves quality and enhances the safety of the military pharmacy program.
Wyatt noted that more than 52,700 potential medication errors or drug interaction problems have been caught and avoided since the program's implementation about a year ago.
"Some could have been potentially fatal," he said.
He also talked about efforts between DoD and Veterans Affairs that will eliminate potential adverse drug reactions. He said the departments are conducting a project to stop service members from having to take two physical exams, one before discharge from active duty and the other at a VA facility to determine eligibility for veterans benefits.
"I see the day when the member gets a physical that's good for (both) DoD and VA requirements," Wyatt said. "It's wasteful of resources. Neither of us has enough resources in either of our health care systems to be doing wasteful tests, and particularly tying up primary care providers."