The Department of Defense is closing its 189 TRICARE service centers at stateside military installations effective April 1.
Public-affairs specialist Michelle Gordon confirmed the mass closings and said Winn Army Community Hospital’s service center is among the facilities being closed. She added that closing the service centers will save the DoD about $51 million a year.
Jeffrey Loomis, Access to Care manager for Winn’s clinical-operations division, said there will be no change in services provided to Fort Stewart soldiers, retirees or family members. He also said there will be no interruption in services, only a change in who is providing those services.
“We have the people here (at Winn) to provide the same services,” Loomis said. “No government employees will be losing their job. Service centers are staffed by regional contractors. One thing that will be going away is paper enrollment, which can sometimes take up to a month to complete.”
Loomis said TRICARE is the only health-insurance program that has had walk-in service centers. He explained that the TRICARE program is divided into three regions: North, South and West. He said Humana Military administers health-care benefits for active-duty military, retirees and family members in TRICARE South Region, which includes Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield.
He said many of the services provided by the service centers already are provided by Winn’s administrative personnel through the hospital’s central appointments phone line or online service. These services include enrolling in a TRICARE plan, filing a claim, checking on a referral or changing a primary-care manager. He said he understands some people prefer the person-to-person, walk-in service. However, some of these walk-in services are provided by the staff at Winn.
Loomis said closing the service centers probably will increase call-center usage by about 10 percent. A Jan. 16 military.com article stated that TRICARE officials are not planning to add staff members to handle the increased volume of calls. However, Loomis said that Winn will be increasing its staff to handle more calls.
A call to Winn’s central appointment line, 435-6633, often will get the following message: “Thank you for calling central appointments. We are currently assisting other customers. Please hold.” Hold times can vary, depending on when the call is made.
Gordon said most questions can be answered at www.TRICARE.mil. She said going to the “I want to...” section provides the same information available through the walk-in service or call centers.
“When you look at it closely, the services provided by Humana are almost invisible,” Loomis said, who then responded to concerns that the service center closings were a cut in benefits. “This isn’t a benefit cut. (Service members, retirees and family members) are still getting the same medical benefits. We will continue to work together with Humana to provide those benefits.”
He said TRICARE’s regional contractors will continue to provide Winn with services like briefings and distribution of materials. He stressed that TRICARE is not going away, nor are the benefits provided by TRICARE being reduced.
“This is a substantial costs savings,” Gordon said. “The money that’s saved can be re-allocated somewhere else, where it’s needed more.”
For more information about TRICARE, call 1-800-444-5445.