UnitedHealthcare has filed a formal protest against a Defense Department decision to award the next round group of Tricare contracts to two of the company's competitors.

The company, which manages the Tricare West region, filed An appeal filed Monday with the Government Accountability Office disputes against the East and West region Tricare 2017 contract awards announced July 22. UnitedHealthcare currently The company, which manages the Tricare West region, filed

The Pentagon selected Humana Government Business to manage the brand new East region, a consolidation of the Tricare North and Tricare South regions, and chose Health Net Federal Services to manage the West region. Humana now manages the current Tricare South region and ,while Health Net manages the Tricare North region.

UnitedHealthcare had submitted proposals for both the East and West each each regions and is protesting both the contract awards. The Tricare East region contract has an initial value of $67.5 million and an estimated worth of $40.5 billion over the life of the contract. The West region contract is valued at $49 million in the initial phase and up to $17.7 billion for the duration of the five-year contract.

UnitedHealthcare spokesman Bruce Jasurda declined to elaborate on the company's appeal, but in an email to employees on Aug. 1, UnitedHealthcare's Military & Veterans military and veterans president, retired Navy Vice Adm. John Mateczun, said protests "are a very normal part of the federal procurement process."

"If our protest is sustained by the GAO, it could require the Defense Health Agency to take corrective action. Corrective action could reopen the competition, requiring the submittal of revised proposals. Or, it could result in a reevaluation of already submitted [Tricare 2017] proposals to correct the issues we have raised in our protests," Matezcun Mateczun wrote.

UnitedHealthcare won the Tricare West contract following a protracted protest process in 2012; and UnitedHealthcare was awarded the contract to manage the Tricare South region in 2009 but lost the award in 2011 to the incumbent previous contractor, Humana, after that company filed a protest.

The Minneapolis-based UnitedHealthcare Care then filed an appeal to re-open the contract bid process for the Tricare West region on the basis that because since it was not awarded the Tricare South region contract, it shouldn't have been denied the West region management contract.

Under the contract requirements, no single company can hold more than one Tricare regional management contract.

The GAO has 100 days to investigate and respond to UnitedHealthcare's appeal.

A Pentagon spokesman said the protest will not affect health care services for Tricare beneficiaries, adding that the current contracts will remain in place until all protests are resolved.

"The Defense Health Agency's top priority during this protest period is to maintain quality and continuity of care for its Tricare beneficiaries in all regions," Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson said.

GAO protests are normally adjudicated within 100 days.

Patricia Kime covers military and veterans health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.