NU Online News Service, Oct. 1, 3:55 p.m. – The U.S. Department of Defense is starting a free program that will give military personnel, retirees and family members a free alternative to private Medicare supplement insurance.

The program, TRICARE for Life, is part of TRICARE, the military health benefits plan.

The new program, established by Congress earlier this year, will pay most Medicare deductibles and co-payments, along with all out-of-pocket costs for services covered under Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B.

The program will also reduce the annual maximum patient exposure for catastrophic care to $3,000, from $7,500.

The start of TRICARE for Life “represents one of the most sweeping changes to the military health care system in nearly 30 years,” says David Nelson, president of Sierra Military Health Services Inc., Baltimore, a subsidiary of Sierra Health Services Inc., Las Vegas. “It welcomes back to the Department of Defense benefit rolls all those retirees whose care formerly was turned over to Medicare once they reached age 65.”

Sierra alone serves 1 million TRICARE members and may be able to provide TRICARE for Life benefits to as many as 240,000 people, Nelson says.

To be eligible for the TRICARE for Life program, beneficiaries must be registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Report System, be eligible for Medicare Part A, and be enrolled in Medicare Part B.

Beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Part B and registered with the eligibility report system do not have to enroll separately to get TRICARE for Life benefits.