Opinion

Health care promise coming true at last

Remember, all you folk in the military or retired, when you were told Uncle Sam would take care of you and your family for as long as you lived, in gratitude for service to your country?

Only it didn’t work out that way, leaving many of you angry and confused?

Well, promised lifetime health care for the military, active duty and retirees, and their families, is back. Or about to be.

As of June 1, TriWest HealthCare Alliance, which currently serves 16 central states, adds Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii to its jurisdiction.

President and CEO is David McIntyre of Seattle, a onetime staffer of former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton. Vice president for external affairs is Scott K. Celley, a onetime staffer for U.S. Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Belfair, and Gorton. Both Gorton and Dicks aided in the acquisition.

Every member of every branch of the service will tell you that one of the attractions he or she counted on when entering the service was the promise of lifetime health care.

The bubble burst back in the 1980s.

The Department of Defense was making plans to shut down military bases under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to save money. The cost of health care was rising. With the downsizing, the availability of specialists in various fields was scattered. It wasn’t possible to have a complete array of them at each and every health center left in operation.

Military-related folks living in areas such as Bremerton with its Navy Hospital and Tacoma with Madigan were able to get care fairly easily, but with base closures, others might be hundreds of miles, rather than 40 or 50, away from the specialist or care they needed.

They also were subject at the military hospitals to “available care,” i.e. we’ll take you if we have room. Retirees found out that when they hit 65, they were expected to use Medicare and have their own secondary plan. That, complained the ailing, is not the lifetime care they were promised. Their bitterness spilled out in letters to their congressmen and political leaders. You broke your promise, they said.

A solution was needed. The feds put out a request for proposals to provide a comprehensive health care system. Give us a tricare plan, they said, on how we can best serve three groups — active duty military, retirees and families.

In 1996, TriWest won the contract in 16 central states with its plan for a public-private partnership with local health care communities. They made a deal to have the locals fill in any gaps between what could be provided by the military hospitals and the privates.

When the fed decided to make their new health care system more efficient by collapsing six regions down to three, McIntyre designed a plan to deal with the five western states and won the competition for that contract. It affects more than 250,000 people in Washington alone.

“We toured every military facility,” McIntyre said. “We will provide every health care service that the military can’t in partnership with the Department of Defense.”

When retirees are under 65, TriWest picks them up, then becomes the second payer after 65. Health care will be seamless. Care and coverage will not change when retirees go from 64 to 65. No longer will a second plan be needed.

TriWest’s boast is that it will do “whatever it takes” to meet the need of local military families. Regular meeting are held with advisory boards made up of local military association leaders, beneficiary representatives, military commands and staff, congressional office staff and TriWest leadership staff to keep abreast of any problems that might crop up. Regence BlueShield and Blue Cross are co-owners of TriWest in Washington.

Lifetime health care, as promised, coming up.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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