Thousands of Tricare beneficiaries were charged monthly premiums 100 times their usual fees Thursday in what Humana, the company that manages Tricare’s East region, called a “processing error.”
Banks and credit card companies began contacting Tricare users who pay their monthly premiums by credit or debit card and direct debit Thursday afternoon of the overages, which ranged from $2,400 to a whopping $108,400.
About 26,000 beneficiaries were affected by the error, including military retirees who use Tricare Prime, as well as those enrolled in Tricare Reserve Select, Tricare Retired Reserve and Tricare Young Adult.
Tammy Austin, the spouse of a retired Army first sergeant whose daughter uses Tricare Young Adult, said she received a text message from USAA, her credit card company, saying it had declined a $21,400 charge from Humana.
She said she called USAA and cancelled her credit card, worried that it had been compromised and unaware of the unfolding problem with Humana.
“It caused a lot of anxiety. My daughter has an autoimmune disease and I worried that if she had a flareup she wouldn’t be covered,” Austin said. “They check your insurance when you go to the doctor -- all these thoughts were running through my head at 100 miles per hour.”
Austin’s son also had a similar experience. USAA notified the 21-year-old that Humana tried to charge him $8,500.
“I am so incredibly thankful that USAA was vigilant and took care of us,” Austin said.
In a message posted on the company’s website, Humana officials attributed the errors to the billing company Humana uses to handle payments, its “credit card processor.”
On their website, Humana officials said they would extend customer service hours through the weekend, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to handle problems.
In a statement, company officials said they are “actively working to correct this error” and coverage would not be interrupted.
“We pledge that we will do everything we can to ensure that beneficiaries are not adversely affected by this error, including covering overdraft and related fees. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused and appreciate the patience shown by beneficiaries while we work to correct the problem,” they said.
The matter remains under investigation. According to a spokesman for the Defense Health Agency, any charges that were incurred should be credited in the next 24 to 48 hours. He added that if the incorrect charge is not credited after two days, beneficiaries should notify Humana.
The problem is the second significant technical glitch facing Tricare users in a month: in November, Defense Health Agency officials announced that the online enrollment system for beneficiaries to change health plans was down.
The timing couldn’t be worse: open enrollment began Nov. 11 and runs through Dec. 9. As of Friday, the site remained inoperable. Beneficiaries wanting to enroll in Tricare or switch programs have had to request a change by mail or phone.
Tricare beneficiaries with questions should contact Humana Military at (800) 444-5445.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.