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Military's TRICARE for Life program set to begin Oct. 1; leave limit eased in wake of tragedy.

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Date published: 9/24/2001

DESPITE the new war on terrorism, and federal budget surpluses melting like ice cream in summer heat, Defense health officials have sent a reassuring message to 1.5 million Medicare-eligible military beneficiaries and their civilian health-care providers: The TRICARE for Life program will spring to life Oct. 1, on schedule.

"We are bringing the promise home," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Leonard "Randy" Randolph, deputy executive director of the TRICARE Management Activity, during a Sept. 18 meeting with reporters at TMA Headquarters in Falls Church.

Not only will the program start on time, but it will be fully funded and will operate without any strain by patients or civilian health-care providers.

All signals for "are green. All signs are go. It's going to happen," said Air Force Col. Frank Cumberland, TMA director of communications and customer service. "People needed that assurance before Sept. 11, and they really need it now."

Steve Lillie, director of over-65 benefits division at TMA, said 95 percent of Medicare-eligible military beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Part B, a requirement for using TRICARE for Life. Most enrollees, as Congress intended, will have to drop their Medigap insurance and use TRICARE for Life as their Medicare supplement.

Still, some elderly remain skeptical. They cite various reasons:

Funding. Some retirees say they won't drop their Medigap insurance until they know TFL is a permanent entitlement and is fully funded. It is, Lillie emphasized.

For fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, President Bush requested an extra $3.9 billion for new medical benefits for service elderly. Congressional approval is expected. Even if lawmakers fail to pass a defense appropriations bill by Oct. 1, TFL will start on time, Lillie said.

For fiscal 2003 and beyond, the law establishing TFL, which passed both the House and Senate by overwhelming majorities, directs a special accounting mechanism to fund TFL. Part of the money will be drawn from general revenues of the government, and part from appropriated Defense Department dollars.

Wary physicians. Some civilian doctors are advising military retirees not to drop their Medigap insurance because TRICARE has had problems paying claims. Some doctors even say they won't participate in TFL because reimbursements for TRICARE services have been set too low.

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