Allotments for Tricare payments in Tricare West have not been stopped, according to Tricare officials, in response to a report from a retiree in New Mexico whose retirement pay said otherwise.
“We’ve had isolated cases of beneficiaries receiving incorrect notifications that are being resolved, but have had no reports of widespread issues,” a Tricare official said. “We’re working to prevent any additional incidents of misinformation.”
A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel in New Mexico said he checked his retiree account statement Wednesday and discovered his retirement pay didn’t include the usual allotment to pay for his Tricare Prime coverage. That deduction from his retired pay “has shown for the last 14 years that I’ve been retired,” he said in an email to Military Times.
He made calls to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and to the current contractor, UnitedHealthcare. UnitedHealthcare officials told him, he said, that they stopped his allotment after the payment on Dec. 1, which paid for his Tricare Prime coverage for December, and that he would have to call the new Tricare West contractor, Health Net Federal Services, to make arrangements for payment.
Health Net takes over the contract on Jan. 1 and doesn’t have the authority to make changes to allotments until that time, he was told. So he would have to make alternative arrangements for his January payment, such as paying by check or credit card, before restarting his allotment for the February payment.
There would be a 30-day grace period, he was told, but coverage could be cancelled after that grace period, if the premium were not paid.
He received no notification of the allotment being cancelled for January, he said, finding out only because he checked his retirement statement.
“If someone were not aware of their responsibility, and failed to make payment [before] January 30, their coverage is cancelled,” he said.
This comes less than three weeks after letters were mistakenly sent to an unknown number of military retirees in the current Tricare North region about paying their Tricare Prime premiums electronically from their bank account or credit card, even though many of those retirees were paying by allotment from their retirement pay.
The letter warned the beneficiaries of a possible “interruption” in their health care benefits if the information wasn’t received. The mistake came from Humana Military, the contractor that takes over Tricare East on Jan. 1. On that date, Tricare North and South regions combine into Tricare East.
Some retirees in Tricare North have reported receiving the corrected letters, which include an apology from Humana Military.
“Snafus are to be expected in any transition, despite assurances by both the Defense Health Agency and the contractors that ‘we’ve got this under control,’ “ said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, noting that about two-thirds of Tricare beneficiaries are getting a new contractor during this transition.
The two contractors are both “experienced contractors who understand Tricare,” she said, but their normal transition challenges are complicated by the stand-up of all the new benefit changes mandated by Congress, many of which also take effect Jan. 1.
The time frame for everything has also been constricted because of the changes, she said.
“We are saddened that the first communication retirees are receiving from their new contractors is about payment and not about how those contractors will serve beneficiaries,” she said. “We would hope the contractors and [the Defense Department] would do all they can to minimize disruptions that will occur under a transition, but, when the inevitable hiccup occurs, we hope they are up front about the problem and the fix.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.