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TRICARE Looking to Let New Contracts for Care, Support

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

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2002 – TRICARE officials are looking to revamp their system of contracts to provide medical care to military members, family members and retirees in the United States.

The Defense Department released a request for proposals Aug. 1 for new managed-care contracts. Interested companies have until Nov. 1 to respond, Dr. William Winkenwerder said.

Winkenwerder is assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. He described the new contracting plan to reporters recently in his Pentagon office.

"These contracts are very important to the overall success of the TRICARE program," he said. "They are significant in terms of their size and in terms of dollars and in terms of just the way that we do business."

Four contractors currently handle seven separate contracts that cover the 11 TRICARE regions. Under the new contracting structure, the United States will be divided into north, south and west regions. Health-care delivery in each region would be covered under a separate contract, Winkenwerder said.

"It will be much simplified," he said.

The current regional TRICARE contracts call for the contractors to provide all aspects of health-care delivery, administrative services, pharmacy, marketing, and member education. Winkenwerder acknowledged this led to shortcomings in areas not directly related to patient care.

Under the new contracting proposal, separate contracts will be let to handle pharmacy services, beneficiary education, billing for Medicare- eligible beneficiaries, and retiree dental care. He said these separate contracts will make pharmacy services seamless to beneficiaries across the country.

Likewise, all beneficiaries will receive the same patient-education material regardless of location. TRICARE has received complaints that different contractors produced vastly different brochures and so forth. "They might intend to say the same thing, but when people read it, they read something different," Winkenwerder said. "We're attempting to get the same look and feel across the whole system."

Other "carved out" contracts will deal with quality monitoring and local-support agreements. He said the new contracts will be phased in over the next few years.

The entire solicitationcan be viewed online at www.tricare.osd.mil/pmo/t-nex/index.cfm.

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