TRICARE: Service Members Air Complaints at Field Hearing
The military's health care system is "broken and needs fixing," according to the nearly 200 physicians, service members and administrators attending a "field hearing" of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on military personnel in Fort Bragg yesterday. Testifying before Reps. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Neil Albercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), witnesses complained of appointment backlogs, billing mistakes and delays in getting Tricare treatment. One patient told the subcommittee that her breast cancer surgery was rescheduled 30-minutes before the procedure due to unprocessed Tricare paperwork. Dr. Michael Bryant of the Sand Hills Physician Associates said that one Tricare patient waited eight to 10 weeks after diagnosis to get breast cancer surgery. Service members also complained about having to call toll-free appointment lines in other states to schedule appointments at local hospitals.
Deception for Appointments
One service member testified that people had resorted to lying to get appointments, telling schedulers that their child had very high fevers. Members also complained that Tricare was not paying medical bills promptly. One member said his $44 bill went unpaid for so long that the provider filed a lawsuit against him. Subcommittee Chair Buyer "dropped his jaw" when he learned that the cost of processing a Tricare claim ranged between $8 and $15, when a Medicare claim only costs the government $1. "Wow. This is a lot of money. We are going to take this one on," Buyer promised. Many members testified that once they finally received care, it was usually adequate. "Tricare is not a bad system," Command Sgt. Maj. Aubrey Butts said. "It is just a system that is very short of what is needed by the soldier and his family (Newton, Fayetteville Observer-Times, 2/29).