Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Official: Concern Unwarranted

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Official: Concern Unwarranted

Article excerpt

When he was younger, Ken Rock was a Navy captain and a blimp

pilot. Now, at 78, he is a volunteer at the lobby information

desk at Naval Hospital Jacksonville.

His job is to answer the questions of other retirees who come to

the hospital. But lately, there's one question Rock is asked

that he can't answer. He has the same question himself.

"Whether we're going to get taken care of," Rock said.

"We were told when we first enlisted that Navy care would be

available to us the rest of our lives. Now it begins to appear

that it won't," Rock said.

Rock's concern is understandable and is shared by many other

military retirees, said Capt. Milton Benson, the hospital's

chief executive officer.

However, Rock's concern also is unwarranted, Benson said in an

interview.

The concern is triggered by Tricare, a new multi-option

health insurance program being phased in for military personnel

and their dependents. It kicks in for Jacksonville area

personnel on July 1.

Tricare is a managed-care initiative, designed to hold down the

Pentagon's medical costs. It would not cover people 65 and over.

Medicare does that.

But the concern is that as younger people sign up for Tricare,

it may put new demands on medical staff and resources at Naval

Hospital Jacksonville and other military health care facilities.

Naval Hospital Jacksonville is a 96-bed facility on the grounds

of Naval Air Station Jacksonville in southern Duval County. It

is the largest military medical facility in this area. About

132,000 people in Northeast Florida alone are military active

duty or dependents or retirees.

And the hospital has a larger patient constituency than that,

because the next closest Navy hospitals are in Pensacola and

South Carolina.

Because military health facilities prioritize active duty

personnel and their dependents, the fear is it will soon be

harder for elderly retirees to get in for care.

Benson and his staff have been conducting briefings on Tricare

for more than a year, both on and off base, trying to explain

Tricare and alleviate concerns. …

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