SMA calls for review of TRICARE standards
July 23, 2009
By Holly Meyer
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 23, 2009) -- The Army's top noncommissioned officer recommended reviewing the standards of the military health-care program TRICARE during his testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and the top NCOs from other services appeared before the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee to share the successes and problems of military family support programs.
Preston said military families are experiencing problems finding TRICARE providers off installations, especially in more rural areas.
"One of the major accessibility challenges to getting quality medical care is finding sufficient health-care providers outside our military installations who accept TRICARE payment," Preston said.
TRICARE brings together health-care resources of the military and civilian medical professionals, Preston said. It serves active, Guard, and Reserve members, retirees, families, survivors and certain former spouses worldwide.
The limited number of health-care providers who accept the plan is a result of negative past experiences with the program, Preston said.
"Many of them were left with a bad taste in their mouth from dealing with TRICARE before because of the length of time it took to get reimbursement," Preston explained.
One health-care provider he spoke with accepts TRICARE patients out of charity to help the military, Preston said.
Due to reimbursement problems, the health-care program was revamped and Preston said he sat down with the TRICARE management team and discussed what was done to restructure and streamline the process. Although it has made significant advancement, he said the program still has gaps that need fixed.
TRICARE offers three different plans to the 9.4 million eligible beneficiaries. TRICARE Reserve Select is a premium-based plan that qualified Guard and Reserve members can buy. It is similar to TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra and charges a monthly premium of $47.51 for the Soldier and $180.17 for the Soldier and family.
Through TRICARE, Soldiers and their families have access to authorized providers, and they can use military treatment facilities - 59 military hospitals, 413 medical clinics and 413 dental clinics - on a space-available basis.
Soldiers and their family members list quality medical care as a priority and a main reason to stay with the Army team, according to Preston's submitted statement to the subcommittee.
Preston said the center of the Army's commitment to supporting servicemembers and their families comes from two covenants - the Army Family Covenant signed in 2007 and the Army Community Covenant signed in 2008.
The covenants ensure the Army will continue to provide programs that will enhance the quality of life for everyone involved, he said.
"Both of these initiatives institutionalize and fund the programs supporting our Soldiers and their families with the support that is commensurate with their quality of service they provide to our nation," Preston said.