WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 14, 2007) - National Guardsmen and Reservists enrolled in the Tricare Reserve Select health plan can now go to the Tricare Web site to transfer to the new, improved program that will replace it Oct. 1.

The new plan is designed to simplify the current Tricare Reserve Select benefit and make it available to more reserve-component members and their Families, said Maj. Gen. Elder Granger, deputy director of the Tricare Management Activity.

Gone will be the current three-tier system, along with three premium levels, he said. Everyone enrolled in the new system will pay one rate, based on coverage: $81 for individuals and $253 for Families.

Also gone are strict guidelines about who qualifies and when they have to sign up.

All members of the Selected Reserve qualify for the program, with one notable exception, Maj. Gen. Granger said. Those eligible for or covered under a federal employee health benefits program can't sign up for Tricare Reserve Select.

Enrollment is open, meaning people can purchase it any time of the year, not just during a specific "open season" or after returning from a deployment. The new program includes expanded survivor coverage and makes it easier for people to change their coverage when their Family grows or changes.

Anyone who drops out of the new program or gets dropped due to missed payments is barred from reenrolling for about a year, Maj. Gen. Granger said.

Participation in the program won't be automatic for the 11,500 participants currently enrolled in the Tricare Reserve Select program. They'll be disenrolled when that program expires Sept. 30 and must sign up for the new plan to maintain coverage, Maj. Gen. Granger explained.

The Tricare Web site, at www.tricare.mil, offers information about the new program and how to sign up. Maj. Gen. Granger referred visitors to the site to the "My Benefit" link, then to the Guard and Reserve portal.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas F. Hall sent letters to all current enrollees earlier this month to let them know about the changes ahead and what they need to do to continue coverage. Mr. Granger said a big information campaign will follow through the next several months to ensure no one is caught unaware.

He called the new program a good deal for Reservists and Guard members, who gain access to "a very robust network" of about 200,000 providers, 50,000 hospitals and 55,000 pharmacies in the Tricare network. They can also get treatment at a military medical facility on a space-available basis.

Health-care benefits help ensure a force that's ready to be called to duty when needed, Maj. Gen. Granger said. "Access to good health care is a huge readiness issue, ... and this is a great solution for how they can be ready in the future," he said.

But because the benefits also extend to enrollees' Families, there's another big plus for the military, he said. "Troops as well as their Families have access to high-quality care, (so) that is going to improve retention as well as impact recruiting," he said. "We recruit individual Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, but we retain Families."

(Donna Miles writes for the American Forces Press Service.)