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Murkowski Raises Alaska TRICARE Problems with Senior Defense Official

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Lisa Murkowski today pressed her request that the Defense Department delay the implementation of  a new policy that requires military retirees enrolled in TRICARE's Prime Option who live more than 30 minutes or more than 100 miles from a military health facility request and obtain a waiver in order to continue receiving care on base.

In a letter to Rear Admiral Christine Hunter, deputy director of the TRICARE Management Activity at the Defense Department, earlier this month, Murkowski had asked for the delay so the military could fully assess the impact of the policy change on Alaska retirees. Murkowski also had raised the possibility that the military should consider exempting Alaska beneficiaries from the waiver requirements altogether. 

Murkowski met with Admiral Hunter to discuss the directive, which has prompted a flurry of concern among Alaska TRICARE beneficiaries, especially in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Hunter said that TRICARE is considering Murkowski's request.

More than 1,500 Alaska beneficiaries were advised of the change in policy in letters that began arriving in their mailboxes at the end of August. Those letters requested that the affected beneficiaries request a waiver by September 15, 2009. Beneficiaries who do not respond to the letter, or who are unsuccessful in obtaining waivers, will be dropped from TRICARE Prime later this fall and lose the opportunity to continue to receive healthcare from their Primary Care manager at a Military Treatment Facility, according to the letters.

"The phrase, 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it," immediately comes to mind," Murkowski said. "Alaska's veterans and military retirees are well accustomed to driving distances that might seem long in some parts of the United States to access their earned health benefits. Alaska's military retirees have given much to earn lifetime participation in TRICARE, and we must honor their service by giving them the peace of mind of knowing that they will continue to receive care in the familiar surroundings to which they have grown accustomed."

Murkowski noted that it is necessary for military retirees to continue to have access to care on Alaska's military bases because very few community physicians accept TRICARE. Hunter and Murkowski brainstormed ways to improve the acceptance of TRICARE in the Alaska medical community, including possible increases in TRICARE reimbursements to Alaska doctors and improving TRICARE's service to medical providers.

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