TRICARE military centers closing walk-in services in April

Jan 27 2014 - 6:34pm

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- A personal touch looks to be disappearing from the military health benefits system.

Hoping to save a quarter of a billion dollars over the next five years, the Department of Defense has announced it will cut administrative walk-in services at all stateside TRICARE military centers, including the one at Hill Air Force Base.

The cuts will begin on April 1 and affect 189 facilities within the United States, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren.

Warren said that the centers will stop taking walk-ins, but beneficiaries will be able to accomplish any and all administrative tasks online or by phone. TRICARE service centers overseas will not be affected.

"The change will not -- and let me repeat that -- will not affect any TRICARE medical benefit or health care service," Warren said. "What it will do is allow the department to save about $250 million over the next five years, and allow us to invest in more important services."

Warren said the change is also being driven by "the fact that technology has gotten so much better," he said. "Customers who need the type of assistance that was being done in these walk-in service centers can quickly and efficiently receive help online or via phone."

Hill's TRICARE office is run in concert with the base's 75th Medical Group. The office is located in Building 570 on base, at 7321 Balmer St.

TRICARE services are utilized not only by active-duty military members at Hill, but also by military retirees of all branches of service, from all over the Intermountain West region.

Hill supports more than 16,000 retirees and their families from Utah, the southern regions of Idaho, Wyoming and eastern Nevada.

Warren said 50 percent of all visits to the TRICARE centers are for in- and out-processing and requests to change primary-care providers, and the rest involve billing-related questions.

The Defense Department spends roughly $50 million a year on those services, and work can be handled more efficiently by phone or online, he said.

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.

The TRICARE service centers have been around since the 1990s, and are staffed by contractors.

Beneficiaries can get more information and sign up for updates at www.tricare.mil/tsc.

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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