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Release No: 521-96
September 09, 1996


The Department of Defense released today results from its comprehensive survey designed to learn how beneficiaries view their health care. During the spring of 1995, the survey queried over 160,000 active duty personnel, retirees, family members and survivors on such issues as their access to health care, satisfaction with military and civilian providers, their health status, and their use of health care and preventive services. Individuals were selected at random to participate in the survey. About 54 percent returned their questionnaires. The data has been weighted so that the findings are representative of all beneficiaries.

This survey solidly reinforces our determination to pursue TRICARE (DoD's managed health care program), which is designed to facilitate access to care at all levels of the medical continuum. Access to military health care is our Number One problem, said Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

Results showed that the majority of beneficiaries (58 percent) rely on military facilities for their care. This figure ranged from 92 percent of active duty personnel to 35 percent of retirees age 65 and over.

Overall, three-quarters of military beneficiaries reported that they made at least one outpatient visit in the previous 12 months, while 12.5 percent said they had spent at least one night in the hospital during the same period. Regarding satisfaction, those who used military facilities rated it as 3.4 on a scale of 1 to 5, five being excellent. Beneficiaries expressed higher satisfaction with quality of care than with access to care.

Joseph remarked that It is interesting that members of retiree households gave higher ratings than members of active duty households for all aspects of care surveyed. It may reflect differences in age, and satisfaction generally increases with age. Joseph went on to point out that the active duty felt most satisfied with financial aspects of their care, including protection from financial hardship, while retirees under age 65 were most satisfied with the quality of their care.

Queries about access to health care included whether beneficiaries have a regular source of care; travel time to their health care facility; and how many days or weeks they must wait for an appointment. The survey found that over 95 percent have a place where they usually go for health care.

Of the active duty members using a military facility for health care, about 88 percent reported travel time under 30 minutes. Among non-active duty beneficiaries the number ranged from 88 percent for active duty family members to 64 percent for retirees over the age of 65.

Only about 45 percent of active duty and their family members reported that they waited one week or less for a scheduled appointment. For other types of beneficiaries, only 33 to 38 percent had the same experience.

Survey results will be used by both DoD policy makers and local medical facility commanders to identify ways to improve the delivery of care to military beneficiaries. DoD will conduct similar surveys annually. The data will become more valuable when the Department builds up a number of years of experience with the survey. With several iterations, analysts will be able to examine both the current state of health care and trends for key variables, stated Joseph.

The 1996 survey effort has begun and includes questions about TRICARE, DoD's managed health care program, which is designed to improve access to care as well as to maintain high quality and control costs. The survey will be one of the tools used to assess changes in health care delivery under TRICARE; however, TRICARE will not be fully implemented nationwide until FY 1997.

The Defense Manpower Data Center provided technical support and contractual assistance to Health Affairs through all stages of the survey. Representatives from each Service branch participated in the development of the survey.

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