Defense Health Care:

DOD Lacks Assurance That Selected Reserve Members Are Informed about TRICARE Reserve Select

GAO-11-551: Published: Jun 3, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 3, 2011.

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TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) provides certain members of the Selected Reserve--reservists considered essential to wartime missions--with the ability to purchase health care coverage under the Department of Defense's (DOD) TRICARE program after their active duty coverage expires. TRS is similar to TRICARE Standard, a fee-forservice option, and TRICARE Extra, a preferred provider option. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 directed GAO to review TRS education and access to care for TRS beneficiaries. This report examines (1) how DOD ensures that members of the Selected Reserve are informed about TRS and (2) how DOD monitors and evaluates access to civilian providers for TRS beneficiaries. GAO reviewed and analyzed documents and evaluated an analysis of claims conducted by DOD. GAO also interviewed officials with the TRICARE Management Activity (TMA), the DOD entity responsible for managing TRICARE; the regional TRICARE contractors; the Office of Reserve Affairs; and the seven reserve components.

DOD does not have reasonable assurance that Selected Reserve members are informed about TRS. A 2007 policy designated the reserve components as having responsibility for providing information about TRS to Selected Reserve members on an annual basis; however, officials from three of the seven components told GAO that they were unaware of this policy. Additionally, only one of the reserve components had a designated official at the headquarters level acting as a central point of contact for TRICARE education, including TRS. Without centralized responsibility for TRS education, the reserve components cannot ensure that all eligible Selected Reserve members are receiving information about the TRS program. Compounding this, the managed care support contractors that manage civilian health care are limited in their ability to educate all reserve component units in their regions as required by their contracts because they do not have access to comprehensive information about these units, and some units choose not to use the contractors to help educate their members about TRS. Nonetheless, DOD officials stated that they were satisfied with the contractors' efforts to educate units upon request and to conduct outreach. Lastly, it is difficult to determine whether Selected Reserve members are knowledgeable about TRS because the results of two DOD surveys that gauged members' awareness of the program may not be representative because of low response rates. Because TRS is the same benefit as the TRICARE Standard and Extra options, DOD monitors access to civilian providers for TRS beneficiaries in conjunction with TRICARE Standard and Extra beneficiaries. DOD has mainly used feedback mechanisms, such as surveys, to gauge access to civilian providers for these beneficiaries in the absence of access standards for these options. GAO found that jointly monitoring access for these two beneficiary groups is reasonable because a claims analysis showed that TRS beneficiaries and TRICARE Standard and Extra beneficiaries had similar health care utilization. Also, during the course of GAO's review, TMA initiated other efforts that specifically evaluated access to civilian providers for the Selected Reserve population and TRS beneficiaries, including mapping the locations of Selected Reserve members in relation to areas with TRICARE provider networks. GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to develop a policy requiring each reserve component to designate a centralized point of contact for TRS education. DOD partially concurred with this recommendation, citing a concern about regional coordination. GAO modified the recommendation.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In July 2012, DOD's Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness-the entity that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs reports to-signed an instruction that requires the reserve components to designate a centralized point of contact to manage, account for, and direct the application of the TRS program for the reserve component. In addition, each reserve component shall develop a comprehensive communications plan, and at least annually, educate its members about the TRS qualification requirements, exclusions, benefits and costs, and the reserve component member's responsibility for enrollment. This plan is to be coordinated with the TRICARE Management Activity-the DOD entity that supervises the TRICARE Regional Offices.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to develop a policy that requires each reserve component to designate a centralized point of contact for TRS education, who will be accountable for ensuring that the reserve components are providing information about TRS to their Selected Reserve members annually. In establishing responsibilities for the centralized points of contact, DOD should explicitly task them with coordinating with their respective TRICARE Regional Offices to ensure that contractors are provided information on the number and location of reserve component units in their regions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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