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TRICARE for Life Starts on Schedule

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

ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 2, 2001 – TRICARE for Life kicked off on schedule Oct. 1, adding 1.5 million new beneficiaries to the military's healthcare system.

"This benefit ... is helping to restore trust in our government," said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in a ceremony at the TRICARE Management Activity here. "The introduction of this benefit today reaffirms the determination of Congress and the commitment of the Department of Defense to service members of today and of yesterday."

Officials believe there may be glitches but that they'll be fixed as soon as they're identified. "I am anticipating an electronic bump here and there," said Dr. J. Jarrett Clinton, acting assistant secretary for health affairs. "But I know now we have people who take care of electronic bumps."

That TRICARE for Life began on schedule in spite of the national tragedies of Sept. 11 speaks highly of the people who work for TRICARE, Chu said. "This is a new day for the entire military health system and a great one, and I salute each of you," he said to the TRICARE employees at the ceremony.

It also makes the American people realize how much they depend on their military services. "This last month has made us realize the sacrifices that our military members and (DoD) civilians make toward maintaining a democracy," Clinton said.

Officials believe the TRICARE for Life program will send a message that will help recruiting and retention as well. "This is a magnificent benefit, and we believe it will do a great deal to both recruit and ... retain those people who we so desperately need and rely upon to maintain this nation of democracy and freedom," Clinton said.

TRICARE for Life extends TRICARE benefits to military retirees who are over age 65 and Medicare-eligible. The fiscal 2001 defense authorization act extended coverage to this previously ineligible group.

For eligible retirees and their spouses who are over age 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part B, TRICARE will become a second payer to Medicare starting Oct. 1. This will end their need to pay many out-of-pocket expenses, and most will probably conclude they no longer need to buy "Medigap" supplemental insurance, TRICARE officials said.

The only requirements for beneficiaries are that they ensure the accuracy of their enrollment information in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System and that they be enrolled in Medicare Part B.

All but about 70,000 of the 1.5 million retirees eligible for TRICARE for Life are enrolled in Medicare Part B, said Steve Lillie, TRICARE's director of over-65 benefits. Medicare's next general enrollment period is January through March 2002.

Beneficiaries with questions should call the newly expanded TRICARE for Life center at toll-free 1-888-DOD-LIFE (1-888- 363-5433) or visit the TRICARE Web site at www.tricare.osd.mil.

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