Military Health: Increased TRICARE Eligibility for Reservists Presents Educational Challenges

GAO-07-195 Published: Feb 12, 2007. Publicly Released: Feb 12, 2007.
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Since 2001, the number of reservists mobilized for active duty has increased dramatically. Congress has expanded reservists' and their dependents' eligibility for TRICARE, the Department of Defense's (DOD) health insurance program. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2004 directed GAO to examine the health insurance coverage of reservists and their dependents. This report (1) identifies the extent to which reservists have civilian health insurance, (2) examines DOD's efforts to educate reservists and their dependents about TRICARE, and (3) describes reservists' level of satisfaction with TRICARE and the types of problems reservists and their dependents experienced when using it. To do this, GAO relied on interviews with DOD and DOD's survey data. GAO also administered a survey of TRICARE benefit assistance coordinators.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs should improve TRICARE education for reservists and their dependents by providing additional TRICARE briefings to reservists and their dependents. These briefings could be provided to reservists during training periods not associated with mobilizations or at the time that reservists are first informed of their impending mobilization.
Closed – Not Implemented
DOD concurs that information about TRICARE should be provided to reservists and their family members when they are first informed of a pending mobilization of the member or any time a member is ordered to active duty for more than 30 days. However, because Guard and Reserve members perform duty infrequently, DOD believes training time is at a premium and any training must be prioritized in order to maximize the limited training time available. Moreover, DOD believes it is difficult to hold the interest of an audience to describe a benefit for which they are not eligible. DOD believes that an initial briefing upon entry into the Guard or Reserve and when the member and family will soon be eligible for TRICARE are appropriate. DOD believes that there is an abundance of information about TRICARE that is available to Reservists and their family members. DOD said it will continue to support the ongoing education efforts by the Reserve Components and their parent military department by producing and providing current and timely educational materials. DOD determined the most effective and efficient methods to provide TRICARE education and determined that general awareness is high. Reservists and their family members become aware of TRICARE information by toll-free phone numbers, printed materials, beneficiary advisors, and websites. DOD developed a letter that will be mailed to all Reservists who are being activated in support of a contingency operation when they become eligible in DEERS for TRICARE up to 90 days before the Reservist's active duty begins.

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