WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department has made "tremendous efforts and strides" to meet the needs of Reserve and Guard service members who now qualify for health-care coverage under the Tricare program, the program manager said today during an interview on Fox News.
Dr. David Tornberg, acting deputy director of the Tricare Management Activity and deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, said the recent introduction of new patients into the Tricare system presents "a challenge," but that DoD is being "very attentive" to the needs of new Tricare participants.
Thousands of Reserve and Guard service members and their families became eligible to purchase health care insurance through Tricare in late April.
Congress authorized the new benefit, called Tricare Reserve Select, for reserve component members under the fiscal 2005 National Defense Authorization Act. The plan is designed to serve as a bridge for reserve-component troops leaving active duty who aren't covered by civilian employer or other health insurance plans, according to defense officials.
Tricare Reserve Select is available to all reserve component troops who have been activated since Sept. 11, 2001, served in support of a contingency operation and agree to continued service in the Selected Reserve.
To help ensure that licensed physicians across the nation accept these and other Tricare patients, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr. sent letters to national and state medical associations last August, seeking their support. The letter urged the associations to contact their members and encourage them to become Tricare providers and to treat "America's heroes - the people making sacrifices to keep our country safe and strong."
In addition, the Tricare Management Activity is surveying 20 U.S. metropolitan areas to determine what Tricare resources are available and whether they're sufficient to meet the current need, Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, told the American Forces Press Service.
The survey results will help DoD identify areas where beneficiaries may run into difficulties getting access to Tricare services and to help resolve those problems, Shavers said.
A similar survey was conducted last year, as required by the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act legislation.
As DoD works to increase the number of Tricare providers and improve access to the network, Tornberg noted that 80 percent of Guard and Reserve members called to active duty already are covered by another form of health insurance.
After 30 days on active duty, they qualify for full benefits under the Tricare system - a system Tornberg said "has one of the most generous and robust benefits available in the health insurance market."
Legislation introduced in the Senate would further expand healthcare benefits for the Guard and Reserve by allowing them to enroll in the program for a monthly premium, regardless of their duty status. Defense Department officials are studying the legislation, Tornberg said.
More information about Tricare, including a description of services available by location, is posted on the Tricare Web site.