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Tricare center at Naval Hospital Beaufort to close

A Naval Hospital Beaufort facility offering service members and veterans help managing health care services will close April 1, along with all of the other such centers nationwide, according to the Department of Defense.

The Tricare Service Center at the hospital is among 189 centers expected to close, saving a combined $50 million per year. While Tricare health benefits will not be affected, walk-in appointments to get help with things like enrolling in health-care plans or finding doctors will no longer be offered.

Those services can be handled easily online or over the phone, a news release said. Nearly all of the walk-in appointments nationwide were for billing questions, normal processing or changing primary care providers, it said.

Tricare centers overseas will not be closed.

Although the on-site service center will close, the hospital will continue publishing the monthly Newsflash newsletter, the hospital announced. The newsletter includes information about accessing Tricare online and managing health care plans, a hospital news release said.

Hospital spokesman Nick Spinelli was unsure whether the closure would cost center employees their jobs.

InStil, the company that contracted workers at the Naval Hospital Beaufort center, did not know how many employees would be affected by the closures, spokesman Adam Myrick said.

"We don't have a firm estimate as to how this change in service offerings will impact our staffing level, but we do expect to reduce staff by some margin," Myrick said in a statement. "We're committed to providing information and timely status updates to our staff about this change in the coming months."

Mindful of the Web-related problems during the federal Affordable Care Act sign-ups in October, the military will run tests to make sure the Tricare website and call center can handle an influx of traffic before the April 1 closures. About 38,000 people currently use the Tricare site each day.

Tricare members seeking health care assistance can call the Tricare help line at 800-444-5445 or go to www.tricare.mil/tsc.

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