ECHO-The Extended Care Health Option: More Healthcare Options for Military Families

By Neff, Jolene | The Exceptional Parent, July 2007 | Go to article overview

ECHO-The Extended Care Health Option: More Healthcare Options for Military Families


Neff, Jolene, The Exceptional Parent


Are you struggling with caring for a family member with physical or mental disabilities and wondering how to tap into more resources and pay for additional quality care? If so, ECHO is just a call away.

The Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) is a supplemental portion of the TRICARE military health program, available to active duty family members (ADFMs) who qualify based on specific physical and mental disabilities. The program provides financial assistance to qualified beneficiaries and offers an integrated set of services and supplies beyond the basic TRICARE program.

The ECHO program evolved from previous government programs designed to assist those with special needs. In 1966, Congress passed the Military Medical Benefits Amendments, which established the Program for the Handicapped, originally developed to provide financial assistance to ADFMs with serious disabilities. This program was replaced with the Program for Persons with Disabilities (PFPWD) in 1997. In 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) worked through the National Defense Authorization Act to establish the current program known as the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO), which was implemented on September 1, 2005.

As a result, some benefits previously available only under PFPWD are now available under the basic TRICARE program, allowing more TRICARE beneficiaries to access those services, while enhancing services available to ECHO-eligible beneficiaries.

What follows are questions and answers about the ECHO program, to help parents and professionals navigate the program.

Who is eligible for ECHO?

ADFMs are eligible for the ECHO program when they have one or more of the following qualifying conditions:

* A serious physical disability that may include infantile cerebral palsy, spina bifida, loss of vision or loss of hearing

* Moderate or severe mental retardation

* Any physiological disorder, condition, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, which has lasted, or with reasonable certainty, is expected to last for a minimum of twelve contiguous months and which precludes the person with the disorder, condition, or anatomical loss from unaided performance of a major life activity

* Beneficiaries less than three years of age with a developmental delay equivalent to two standard deviations below the mean in adaptive, cognitive, or language function; Down syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome

* An extraordinary physical or psychological condition of such complexity that the beneficiary is homebound

* A diagnosis of a neuromuscular developmental condition or other condition in an infant or toddler that is expected to precede a diagnosis of moderate or severe mental retardation or a serious physical disability

* Multiple disabilities, which may qualify if there are two or more disabilities affecting separate body systems

ECHO benefits are available to family members of a deceased active duty sponsor until midnight of the beneficiary's twenty-first birthday, as long as the sponsor was eligible at the time of death.

ADFMs can also access ECHO benefits under the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP). Please visit www.tricare.mil for more information about TAMP.

Who is not eligible for ECHO?

Retirees and their family members, as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) family members, are not eligible for ECHO benefits.

How do qualifying beneficiaries register for ECHO?

To begin the registration process, beneficiaries must enroll in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This program was established through the Department of Defense (DoD) and is a mandatory enrollment program for active duty personnel who have a family member(s) with special needs.

When military service members are considered for assignment to an installation within the United States, EFMP enrollment is used to determine whether needed services, such as specialized pediatric care, are available through the military health system at the proposed location. …

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