Congressmen: Accepting TRICARE is the right thing for physicians to do

LETTER — Posted June 6, 2005

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TRICARE is the Defense Dept.'s health care program for military retirees and their dependents as well as dependents of National Guard and Reserve members called to active duty.

In the past two years, the program has drawn attention due to decreasing acceptance of TRICARE-eligible patients by local physicians. A number of physicians have limited the number of TRICARE patients they serve, or have refused to see TRICARE patients altogether.

In some cases, TRICARE-eligible military dependents and retirees have to travel unreasonably long distances to consult physicians who participate in the program. Many of those eligible for TRICARE have family members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and rely on TRICARE for 100% of their medical care. That families of American servicemen and -women serving in the most dangerous areas in the world cannot readily access the health care the military has committed to provide is utterly unacceptable.

The Dept. of Defense is aware that in most cases, the primary impediment to physician acceptance of TRICARE is inadequate reimbursement. As physicians, we are also aware of this impediment. But during this time of war, our military families who have voluntarily made sacrifices to serve their country need our support.

There are several advantages to accepting TRICARE. First, with more than 9 million beneficiaries, TRICARE offers a large pool of potential patients. TRICARE is an industry leader in claims payment timeliness, with more than 90% of claims processed in 15 days. Doctors can join TRICARE's network or accept patients on a case-by-case basis.

TRICARE does have authority to pay more than Medicare if necessary to preserve access to care. Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder, MD, are committed to working with physicians and their representative organizations to solve the problems appurtenant to TRICARE participation with the goal of 100% acceptance.

While the Defense Dept., along with physician organizations and individual physicians, works to provide easier access to TRICARE, we urge all AMA members to accept TRICARE. It is the right thing to do, and our armed forces members and their families deserve no less.

Rep. Joe Schwarz, MD (R, Mich.)Rep. Vic Snyder, MD (D, Ark.)

Editor's note: Drs. Schwarz and Snyder are members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2005/06/06/edlt0606.htm.

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