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To expand the capabilities of the nation's active duty forces, the Department of Defense (DOD) relies on the 1.2 million men and women of the Reserve and National Guard. Currently, reserve components constitute nearly half of the total armed forces. Although DOD requires reservists to use TRICARE DOD's health care system for their own health care, using TRICARE is an option for their dependents. Nearly 80 percent of reservists had health care coverage when they were not on active duty, according to a GAO survey. The most frequently cited sources of coverage were civilian employer health plans and spouses' employer health plans. Few dependents of mobilized reservists experience disruptions in their health coverage--primarily because most maintained civilian health coverage while reservists were mobilized. Ninety percent of the reservists with civilian health coverage maintained that coverage. The 5-year cost of the coverage options delineated in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act range from $89 million, for expanding the transition benefit allowing mobilizations, to $19.7 billion, for continuous coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense 1. The Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to ensure that reservists, as a part of their ongoing readiness training, receive information and training on health care coverage available to them and their dependents when mobilized.
Closed - Implemented
DOD has provided a 12-page document titled "Communicating with the Reserve Component about their Health and Dental Benefits." This document outlines a comprehensive plan to educate reserve component members and their families about their medical and dental benefits. It lists 4 objectives to be met including 1) providing reserve component audiences with early messages through multiple channels, 2) promoting education and information through the chain of command to remote communities, 3) disseminating educational products to family members, and 4) TMA and Reserve Affairs working together to educate target audiences. The Plan itemizes 5 target audiences, lists 7 key messages, and identifies 7 ways to measure success. In addition it proposes 13 tactics to communicate with target audiences and identifies responsible entities for these activities. The Plan also includes specific activities underway by the individual services to educate the reserve components. Implementation of this Plan should ensure that reservists and their dependents understand their TRICARE health care benefit.
Department of Defense 2. The Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to provide TRICARE assistance during mobilizations targeted to the needs of reservists and their dependents.
Closed - Implemented
Reserve Affairs officials have ensured that all the information mobilized reservists' family members need related to their health care is available on the TRICARE web site and on the Reserve Affairs web site. Reserve Affairs has developed a brochure that provides information on healthcare benefits for reserve component members on active duty for more than 30 days and their families. In addition, DOD's Guide to Reserve Family Member Benefits contains 7 pages of information on medical and dental benefits for family members and web sites for additional information. DOD has also developed a commanders' briefing titled Force Health Protection and Health Care Benefits that is used to brief reservists on their benefits and their families' benefits when the member is mobilized.

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