October 20, 2000

Retired Officers Group `Ecstatic' About Congressional Health Care News

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The largest military officers association in the United States is "ecstatic" that Congress has taken a giant step to honor its centuries-old and enduring commitment to provide Department of Defense (DoD)-sponsored health care for life to military retirees, their family members and survivors.

The Retired Officers Association (TROA) in Alexandria, Va., is reacting to the news from yesterday's (Oct. 12) passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Starting Oct. 1, 2001, military retirees, their family members and survivors, who were previously denied access to the military's health care program called TRICARE will continue to receive TRICARE coverage for life. Previously, they were denied access to TRICARE when they became Medicare-eligible.

Also beginning next October, Medicare-eligible beneficiaries can use TRICARE Standard as a second-payer to Medicare or on a limited basis enroll in TRICARE Prime, the DoD's HMO-style managed care plan.

This long overdue equity initiative will mean huge savings for Medicare-eligible service beneficiaries by eliminating the need for them to buy Medicare supplemental insurance policies.

A separate NDAA provision authorizes full DoD pharmacy benefits for Medicare eligibles, starting April 1, 2001. In addition to using military pharmacies, all Medicare-eligible military beneficiaries, for the first time will be able to use DoD retail and mail-order pharmacy programs.

The retail plan has a 20 percent copayment. The copay-ment for the mail-order program is $8 for up to a 90-day supply. Beneficiaries may use non-network pharmacies, but this option will entail a 25 percent copay and a $150 deductible.

This boost to military retiree health care equity came in an amendment to the NDAA, sponsored by Sens. John War-ner (R-Va.) and Tim Hutch-inson (R-Ark.), which is frequently called TRICARE-for-life.

It was enhanced significantly when the House Armed Services Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), decided to challenge the budget limitations and won House leadership support to make the benefit permanent, instead of a two-year, budget-driven plan approved by the Senate.

"Many people believe that the military services provide their retirees health care for life, but except in rare cases, that was not true.", says Lt. Gen. Michael A. Nelson, TROA's president. "This Defense Authorization Act allows Medicare-eligible military retirees to continue in the health care program that all were told they would have, but didn't get. There are about 1.4 million retirees, family members and survivors, age 65 or older, who will benefit from this legislation."

When the military down-sized significantly after the Cold War, many bases and hospitals closed, numerous hospitals were downsized or converted to clinics, and many clinics closed, leaving considerably less space and resources left to serve retirees.

In addition, because the 1966 TRICARE law terminated TRICARE coincidental with Medicare eligibility, countless retirees who were promised health care for life, in return for 20 or more years of hardship and sacrifice in service to this Nation, were effectively ostracized from military-sponsored health care.

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