Medicare Subvention Demonstration:

Pilot Satisfies Enrollees, Raises Cost and Management Issues for DOD Health Care

GAO-02-284: Published: Feb 11, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 11, 2002.

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The Department of Defense's (DOD) Medicare subvention demonstration tested alternate approaches to health care coverage for military retirees. Retirees could enroll in new DOD-run Medicare managed care plans, known as TRICARE Senior Prime, at six sites. The demonstration plan offered enrollees the full range of Medicare-covered services as well as additional TRICARE services, with minimal copayments. During the demonstration period, the program parameters were changed, allowing military retirees age 65 and older to become eligible for TRICARE coverage as of October 1, 2001, and Senior Prime was extended for one year. The demonstration showed that retirees were interested in enrolling in low-cost military health plans and that DOD was able to satisfy its Senior Prime enrollees. By the close of the initial demonstration period, about 33,000 retirees were enrolled in Senior Prime, and more were on waiting lists. When nonenrollees were asked why they did not join Senior Prime, more than 60 percent said that they were satisfied with their existing health coverage; few said that they disliked military care. Although the demonstration had positive results for enrollees, it also highlighted three challenges confronting the military health system in managing patient care and costs. First, care needs to be managed more efficiently. Although DOD satisfied enrollees and gave them good access to care, it incurred high costs. Second, DOD's efforts were hindered by limitations in its data and data systems. Finally, the demonstration illustrated the tension between the military health system's commitment to support military operations and promote the health of active-duty personnel and its commitment to provide care to dependents of active-duty personnel, retirees and their families, and survivors.

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