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Retirees unhappy with new Tricare system in Philippines

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Tricare’s experiment with an overseas closed network opened to a rocky start this month for retirees in the Philippines.

Many beneficiaries said they were frustrated after being forced into the new health insurance system — a potential model for Tricare services elsewhere overseas — despite many unanswered questions about getting covered care from approved providers.

Tricare decided to test a closed-network model on about 11,000 retired military beneficiaries in the Philippines first because the system there has been one of the agency’s most troubled and has struggled for years with complaints of poor service, ballooning costs and fraud.

Retirees seeking medical care this month reported confusion over what services would be covered at hospitals in the network and uncertainty among providers over filing Tricare claims, said Ken Fournier, a retired sailor and informal representative of beneficiaries in the Philippines.

In one case, it took about two days to sort out whether an approved provider would accept Tricare coverage for a critically ill military retiree with throat cancer, according to Fournier and other retirees who assisted the stricken beneficiary. The Tricare contractor in the Philippines intervened and the retiree eventually received covered care.

“I would really like to see it shut down until they do more training,” Fournier said. “If these guys [retirees] could put management in front of them and literally attack them, they would. They are that angry, and rightfully so.”

Fournier and others said Tricare could have reduced confusion and frustration by stationing representatives at network hospitals to directly assist beneficiaries and shepherd in the new system.

Since Jan. 1, all retirees living in Manila, Angeles City and Subic Bay are required to use doctors and hospitals approved by the Tricare network or pay their own medical bills. Other areas of the country are scheduled to be added into the network in 2014. After three years, Tricare will assess whether the system will be adopted permanently — and perhaps become a model for other retirees living overseas.

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For months, beneficiaries in the Philippines warned that they were not given enough information on the new health insurance network and urged Tricare to form a beneficiary advisory panel to head off problems before the rollout.

“It didn’t get solved, and now we are flying by the seat of the pants,” Fournier said.

Tricare spokesman Austin Camacho told Stars and Stripes there were some challenges at the start of the network but said the agency has addressed the initial confusion.

“As with any new program, there is a lot of information to understand, and Global 24 Network Services [the local Tricare contractor] has instructed approved providers to contact them if they have any questions regarding covered services, claims or any other questions related to health care delivery,” Camacho wrote in an email.

Tricare “thoroughly” trained providers by giving on-site support to the largest institutions in the network and educating providers on military insurance since last summer to prepare for the rollout, according to Camacho.

This week, agency management and contractors also held a series of public meetings with retirees in Manila, Angeles City and Subic Bay in an effort to ease frustrations and answer questions. Similar sessions were held in the Philippines in November.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

 

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In the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan slamming into the Philippines, relief organizations are calling on Americans to donate funds to their efforts.

UNICEF staff in the Philippines is being repositioned to provide emergency aid and the organization is gearing up to deliver supplies to children and their families. Donations can be made online or by texting RELIEF to 864233 to donate $10.

CARE teams are on the ground in the Philippines and the organization plans to provide emergency relief to thousands of families. Donations can be made online or by calling 1-800-521-CARE within the U.S. or +1-404-681-2552.

World Vision is mobilizing nearly 500 staff around the country to respond to the disaster. Donations are accepted online and the organization also lets you sponsor a child in the Philippines.

• The American Red Cross has volunteers spread throughout the region and accepts donations online. You can also mail a check to your local American Red Cross chapter designating Philippines Typhoons and Flood in the memo line.

• The U.N. World Food Programme is urging Americans to make donations to support its emergency food relief after Typhoon Haiyan. You can donate online or by texting the word AID to 27722 to donate $10.

AmeriCares is deploying medical aid and a relief team to Philippines, and says an emergency shipment with enough medical aid for 20,000 survivors is already on its way.

• The Philippine Red Cross has deployed staff and volunteers across the region. You can easily make a donation through organization's website.

• To donate to the Salvation Army's Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, visit its website or text TYPHOON to 80888 to donate $10 and reply YES to confirm your donation. The organization uses 100% of all disaster donations in support of disaster relief.

• Looking for someone in the Philippines area that is in your family or a friend? Google has launched a person finder for the storm, also known as Yolanda in the Philippines, where you can try and find out someone's whereabouts or enter your own information.

 - USA TODAY

 

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