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Tricare centers closing soon

Jan. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A Tricare patient has her blood pressure checked. Starting April 1, Tricare patients in the U.S. will need to go online or call a service center for help with claims and billing questions.
A Tricare patient has her blood pressure checked. Starting April 1, Tricare patients in the U.S. will need to go online or call a service center for help with claims and billing questions. (Senior Airman Stephanie Rubi / Air Force)
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The hospital- and clinic-based offices that handle Tricare patients’ claims and billing questions in the U.S. are closing April 1.

To get answers after that date, you’ll have to pick up the phone or go online. Here’s what you need to know:

Affected services

The 189 Tricare Service Centers offer walk-in customers face-to-face assistance with claims paperwork, enrollment changes and other administrative tasks. Fifty percent of the visits to the centers are for in- and out-processing and requests to change primary care providers, and the rest involve billing-related questions, officials said.

“The change will not — let me repeat that — will not affect any Tricare medical benefit or health care service,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said.

Why the change

Closing the contractor-staffed facilities — some of which are in freestanding buildings on installations or in the nearby civilian community — will allow the Defense Department to save $250 million over the next five years, “allowing Tricare to invest in more important services,” Warren said.

The change also is driven “by the fact that technology has gotten so much better,” he added.

Customers who need the type of assistance that was being done in the walk-in service centers can receive the same help online or via phone, he said.

Online services

Go to the Tricare Service Center website at www.tricare.mil/tsc and follow the links to “online customer service options.” With the appropriate log-in, you can update your information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility and Reporting System, enroll in Tricare programs or change enrollment information, check claims status, view your explanations of benefits, make payments and request new enrollment cards, among other services.

Tricare gets about 38,000 hits per day on its website. Officials have run tests to ensure the website and call center can handle the expected increase in volume when the service centers close, officials said.

Services by phone

The website also directs beneficiaries to toll-free phone numbers — they vary by Tricare region — where callers can get the same services. The customer service call centers will be improved, to include adequate staff and technology upgrades, Tricare spokesman Austin Camacho said in November.

Not affected

Tricare Service Centers overseas are not closing, Warren said.

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