According to a recent article by Tom Philpott, Defense officials are expected to soon announce that military retirees and their dependents that live more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility or BRAC (base closure) site will lose access to TRICARE Prime as early as next April. This move could force as many as 171,000 retirees to shift to TRICARE Standard, which would mean an increase in out-of-pocket costs – especially those with special needs dependents or other chronic health issues. It is important to note that active duty members and their families won’t be impacted. However, military retirees and their families are not the only ones to be hit by the move. In his article, Philpott points out that some drilling Guard and reserve members enrolled in TRICARE Reserve could also see increases in health costs. These changes have been in the works for some time. In fact, the new TRICARE support contracts were originally drafted in 2007 (during the Bush administration). These contracts were designed to reduce the cost of providing health care to military retirees by constricting Prime service areas. Philpott reports that “Congress is not expected to block this long-standing plan to tighten access to Prime if the intent is to hold down costs. Doing so likely would require lawmakers to find equivalent budget savings elsewhere.” Many may find it disturbing that Defense officials delayed announcing this TRICARE change until after the election out of concern that it could be used by politicians. The first round of Prime service changes is “tentatively” planned to go into effect in the TRICARE West region on April 1. The North and South regions will see the plan implemented by October 1, 2013.
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