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A reminder to military health care beneficiaries: Customer service at Tricare offices in military hospitals and clinics in the U.S. ends March 31.
All 189 domestic Tricare Service Centers will stop serving walk-in customers beginning April 1, part of the reorganization of the military medical system under the Defense Health Agency.
The move is a cost-savings measure that will free up resources for other health care programs, Tricare officials said.
According to data provided by Tricare, utilization rates at service centers nationwide have varied from eight to 3,000 customers per month, while the cost of running a center ranges from $30 to $216 per walk-in.
“Many Tricare Service Centers were seeing small numbers of walk-in customers each day. It didn’t make sense to continue this approach from a customer service perspective or a cost perspective,” Tricare spokesman Austin Camacho said late last year.
The change means that troops have one less box to check when they arrive or leave a base; nearly 50 percent of visits to the centers were simply for in- and out-processing, officials said.
The rest of the visits largely involved changing primary care providers and asking billing-related questions — services that can be done on the Internet or by phone, Pentagon officials concluded.
The move is expected to save the Defense Department $250 million over the next five years.
To accommodate additional customers, Tricare will bolster its online capacity and offer mobile applications as alternatives.
Beneficiaries also can call a toll-free phone number in their Tricare region to get the same services.
Customer service contacts for all Tricare regions can be found online at: www.tricare.mil/ContactUs/CallUs.aspx
Officials have been working to get the word out on the upcoming change.
Military treatment facilities, for example, have been instructed to post signs and advertise in base newspapers. Tricare newsletters sent to beneficiaries also have noted the change.
“The change will not — let me repeat that — will not affect any Tricare medical benefit or health care service,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren.
For more information, go to the Tricare Service Center website at www.tricare.mil/tsc and follow the links to “online customer service options.” With the right log-in, you can update your information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility and Reporting System, enroll in Tricare programs, change enrollment information, check claims status and make payments, among other services.
Overseas locations will remain open for customers.