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Begich Helps Keep Committee Open, Working for Alaskans

DOD Addressing Permanent Extension of TRICARE Demonstration Project

March 24, 2010 -- On a day where most Senate committee meetings were stalled or cancelled by Republicans objecting to the health care legislation, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich welcomed commitments from the TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) benefiting health care services for Alaska active duty personnel, retired military members and their families.

"In a bipartisan effort to keep the Senate focused on its duty to the American people, we forged ahead with today's subcommittee meeting. The result was good news for Alaska," Sen. Begich said. "The Defense Department agreed to permanently extend Alaska's rate reimbursement demonstration project and to participate in the state's new interagency health care task force. Both of these initiatives address the difficulties Alaska faces in providing services and care."

While debating legislation designed to improve comprehensive health care reform, Senate Republicans for the past two days have prevented Senate committees from holding hearings and conducting normal business. Senate rules require unanimous consent on the Senate floor for committees to meet two hours after the Senate convenes.  Objections to the routine procedure are extremely rare. 

Republican objections would have required that today's Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee end at 11 a.m. EST. However, committee members in attendance, including Sen. Begich, protested the need to end an important discussion impacting the military and the health care service men and women and veterans receive.

As the committee pressed ahead, Begich secured assurance from TMA's Rear Admiral Christine Hunter to improve access for TRICARE beneficiaries in Alaska by pursuing a permanent extension of an Alaska specific demonstration program. The program allows TMA to reimburse civilian doctors at a rate 1.35 times higher than current Medicare rates.

The demonstration program started three years ago and has been extended each year since. TMA estimates civilian provider participation in the TRICARE program has increased by 57 percent since the demonstration program began. By making the higher reimbursement rate permanent for Alaska, TMA estimates civilian provider participation would increase even more giving beneficiaries better access to health care

TMA also expressed a willingness to participate in a new interagency task force to assess and improve access to health care in Alaska. Authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which was signed by the President Tuesday, the task force will connect federal agencies to find solutions to provide better federal health care in Alaska and promote medical educational opportunities.

As a member of the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees, Sen. Begich has made care and opportunities for military members, families and veterans a priority of his Senate service.

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