News | June 30, 2021

Delivering Readiness: The Evolution of TRICARE

By TRICARE Communications

Ever wonder about the people behind the curtain at TRICARE? Maybe you imagine policy gurus or bureaucrats with little connection to military service. If so, you may be surprised to learn that’s not true. The halls of the Defense Health Agency Headquarters are filled with men and women in uniform, military retirees, dedicated civil servants, and contractors. They understand and care about the mission and the people they serve.
 
While the TRICARE benefit is always evolving, the mission never does. From day one, the mission is to deliver exceptional medical and dental care to eligible beneficiaries and their families.
 
Mark Ellis, chief of the Policy and Programs section of the TRICARE Health Plan at the Defense Health Agency, understands this contrast between evolving while staying true to an unwavering mission. In fact, he lives it.
 
In 1976, Ellis enlisted in the Air Force Medical Service. Throughout his military career, he served in a variety of roles. He worked in hospitals as a medical support person and on aircrafts as an aerial refueling specialist during the Cold War. He rose through the ranks, earning a commission in the Air Force Medical Service Corps. TRICARE came into existence during his time in the medical service.
 
After almost 23 years of active military service, he retired in August 2001, days before 9/11. As a contractor working for TRICARE on that day, he stood at his office window. He watched the smoke billowing from the Pentagon with renewed resolve. Years later, Ellis became a civil servant, culminating with his current role as chief of the Policy and Programs section.
 
“My military service informs what I bring to policymaking at TRICARE,” said Ellis.  “We still do what we’ve always done—support the Medically Ready Force, Ready Medical Force. We deliver a high-quality medical and dental benefit to eligible beneficiaries and their family members.”
 
During his long career with the Military Health System (MHS), Ellis witnessed the evolution of the military medical benefit from the basic CHAMPUS program to the TRICARE triple option (Prime, Standard, and Extra). He also served throughout the creation of new TRICARE programs, like TRICARE Reserve Select and TRICARE Retired Reserve. These two health plans provide TRICARE coverage for Reserve Component members and their families. He led the MHS’s efforts to implement the TRICARE Young Adult plan. And he led the recent transition from TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra to TRICARE Select coverage. 
 
But Ellis regards the creation of TRICARE For Life (TFL) in 2001, TRICARE’s Medicare wraparound coverage, as the key TRICARE transformation during his career.   
 
“Before TFL, military retirees lost all TRICARE coverage when they became entitled to Medicare due to age or disability,” said Ellis. “Under TFL, you pay your Medicare Part B premiums, as most Americans must do. Then TFL provides the full TRICARE plan and pharmacy coverage as your free Medicare-wraparound coverage, without premiums or enrollment fees. Personally, my wife and I are more than happy to pay our Medicare Part B premium as TFL provides such a rich benefit.”
 
Ellis also worked to develop TRICARE Open Season. Open season is the annual period each fall when you can change or enroll in a health plan. During the enrollment period, you can adjust your health coverage for the upcoming year.
 
For example, you may decide you value having a choice of provider. You understand your out-of-pocket costs and decide TRICARE Select will serve you best. If you want a primary care manager to oversee your care, TRICARE Prime may be the option for you.
 
“These options help you take command of your health by choosing the TRICARE plan that best meets your family’s health care needs,” said Ellis.
 
Choices help you take charge of your own health benefit. Beyond plan options, TRICARE also offers unparalleled savings.
 
“Compared to the Affordable Care Act and the average out-of-pocket costs for commercial health plans, TRICARE offers incredible value,” said Ellis. “There’s no comparison to civilian plans, even when you adjust for the sacrifices that military families make. Congress provides—and the Military Health System delivers—an attractive health care benefit under the TRICARE program.”
 
Highly regulated, ever-changing, and overseen by people who understand they serve those who serve. Those people understand the value of the benefit. They believe in its evolution.  
 
“What a transformation that I’ve seen since the 70s,” said Ellis, who retires from civil service next month. “From 1976 to today, I’ve seen nothing but change. And I know for sure that TRICARE will continue to evolve to support readiness and deliver an unparalleled health care benefit for those who serve and have served, and their family members.”
 
A parent checks on sick child

How to Get Urgent Care Under Your TRICARE Health...

News
Jan. 18, 2022

Do you have an injury or illness that isn’t quite serious enough for a trip to the emergency room? This might...
Read More
A service member kisses infant son

New to TRICARE? Check Out TRICARE 101

News
Jan. 13, 2022

Are you a recent TRICARE enrollee, newly eligible to enroll, or even a seasoned user? If you have any...
Read More
Doctor sitting at desk

Need Help Finding a TRICARE Network Provider?

News
Jan. 11, 2022

The new year has begun. It’s a great time to renew focus on your health. Did you put off seeing a doctor in...
Read More
Graphic of the TRICARE Choices for National Guard and Reserve Handbook

In the National Guard or Reserve? Learn About Yo...

News
Dec. 28, 2021

Are you a National Guard or Reserve member? Check out the TRICARE Choices for National Guard and Reserve...
Read More
There are two main categories of Medicare providers: participating and non-participating. A third category is opt-out providers, which are your most expensive option. If you wish to make the best choice for your coverage, it’s important that you learn the differences between each provider type.

TRICARE For Life: Choosing Your Provider Option

News
Dec. 22, 2021

Do you have medical coverage under the TRICARE For Life (TFL) program? Will you soon be eligible for TFL? If...
Read More
MHS Nurse Advice Line logo

Need Health Advice at Home? Chat With a Nurse 24/7

News
Dec. 20, 2021

With the threat of flu season added to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you might not want to go to the doctor’s...
Read More
Prescription pill bottles sit on a shelf

What You Need to Know About New TRICARE Pharmacy...

News
Dec. 15, 2021

As of Dec. 15, CVS Pharmacy is a part of the TRICARE retail pharmacy network. At the same time, Walmart, Sam’s...
Read More
Hands holding pill bottle

How TRICARE Pharmacy Network Changes Will Affect...

News
Dec. 13, 2021

Have you heard about the changes coming to the TRICARE retail pharmacy network starting Dec. 15? CVS Pharmacy...
Read More

Jan. 18, 2022

How to Get Urgent Care Under Your TRICARE Health Plan

Do you have an injury or illness that isn’t quite serious enough for a trip to the emergency room? This might be the right time to go to an urgent care center. Most TRICARE beneficiaries can go to an urgent care center whenever they need to. You just want to be sure to check out and follow the urgent care rules for your health plan.

Jan. 13, 2022

New to TRICARE? Check Out TRICARE 101

Are you a recent TRICARE enrollee, newly eligible to enroll, or even a seasoned user? If you have any questions about your TRICARE benefits, you should first check out the TRICARE 101 page. Here, you can find information and resources to help answer questions about TRICARE and your coverage.

Jan. 11, 2022

Need Help Finding a TRICARE Network Provider?

The new year has begun. It’s a great time to renew focus on your health. Did you put off seeing a doctor in 2021? If so, now is your time to act. Regular checkups are critical to screening for diseases and preventing future health problems. And TRICARE is here to help you find the right doctor.

Dec. 28, 2021

In the National Guard or Reserve? Learn About Your Health Care Options

Are you a National Guard or Reserve member? Check out the TRICARE Choices for National Guard and Reserve Handbook.

Dec. 22, 2021

TRICARE For Life: Choosing Your Provider Option

Do you have medical coverage under the TRICARE For Life (TFL) program? Will you soon be eligible for TFL? If so, it’s important to become familiar with your choices of Medicare providers, whatever your needs may be.

Dec. 20, 2021

Need Health Advice at Home? Chat With a Nurse 24/7

With the threat of flu season added to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you might not want to go to the doctor’s office for a minor health issue. And with the Military Health System (MHS) Nurse Advice Line, you may not have to. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the best ways to prevent flu and COVID-19 is to avoid contact with people who are sick. With the MHS Nurse Advice Line, you can get health advice 24/7 from a registered nurse from the comfort of your home.

Dec. 15, 2021

What You Need to Know About New TRICARE Pharmacy Network Options

As of Dec. 15, CVS Pharmacy is a part of the TRICARE retail pharmacy network. At the same time, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and some community pharmacies are no longer a part of the TRICARE network. What does this mean for you? Although the list of retail network pharmacies has changed, you can still get the medications you need.

Dec. 13, 2021

How TRICARE Pharmacy Network Changes Will Affect TRICARE For Life

Have you heard about the changes coming to the TRICARE retail pharmacy network starting Dec. 15? CVS Pharmacy is joining the network on that date. At the same time, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and some community pharmacies are leaving the network. If you’re a TRICARE For Life (TFL) beneficiary, you may be wondering how these changes affect the coverage of your current drugs. They don’t.

Dec. 9, 2021

Act Now: TRICARE Open Season Ends Dec. 13

Did you know TRICARE Open Season ends on Monday, Dec. 13? This is your last opportunity, if you so choose, to enroll in or change your health plan. Any changes you make to your coverage during open season will take effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Dec. 7, 2021

Researching Your 2022 Health Care Costs? Here Are 7 Terms to Know

Did you know that we’re currently in TRICARE Open Season? This is the time when eligible TRICARE beneficiaries can change or enroll in health plans for the upcoming year. But choosing a plan often means encountering a few unfamiliar health care terms.

Learn More about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 Vaccine.