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MacDill’s clinic will no longer see civilian patients under new Defense plan

Families of active duty service members, retirees and their families will no longer be able to seek medical treatment at MacDill Air Force Base's clinic as the Department of Defense works to restructure 50 military treatment facilities to improve active duty readiness and medical training.

HOWARD ALTMAN, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS

By ILEANA NAJARRO | Tampa Bay Times | Published: February 29, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Families of active duty service members, military retirees and their families will no longer be able to seek medical treatment at MacDill Air Force Base’s clinic and its satellite Sabal Park Clinic in the coming years.

The decision comes from a Department of Defense plan to restructure 50 military treatment facilities across the U.S. to better serve active duty personnel’s readiness and medical training. The move will cause some 200,000 beneficiaries nationwide to seek medical services through the civilian provider network of the military’s health insurance, TRICARE, according to Thomas McCaffery, assistant Secretary Of Defense for Health Affairs.

“We will implement changes in a deliberate fashion at a pace local healthcare markets can handle,” McCaffery said at a media roundtable on Feb. 19

For now, all patients can continue to see their providers at MacDill’s 6th Medical Group clinic and at Sabal Park. And no changes are expected for on-base pharmacy services, said Lt. Brandon Hanner, spokesman for MacDill’s 6th Air Refueling Wing. After the changes, occupational health services will also continue to support civilian employees.

Beneficiaries will only be transferred to the TRICARE network when they are assured they have a provider. A detailed transition plan for non-active duty patients will be released as the changes phase in over time, Hanner said.

No beneficiary will be transferred to the TRICARE network until a provider is assured, and detailed transition plans will be released as the changes phase in over time, Hanner added.

For Katherine Kelly, 51, who is treated at Sabal Park and whose daughter’s pediatrician works at the MacDill clinic, past experiences cause some concern.

When Kelly, the wife of a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander, once tried to schedule an appointment for her daughter with an off-base gynecologist, the doctor’s office told her that while they accepted their military insurance, they weren’t taking new patients at that time.

Finding civilian providers under TRICARE who can accommodate an influx of new patients was among key concerns shared in a report on changes specific to MacDill’s clinic. The same report also expressed concern over access in the civilian provider network for ophthalmology, dermatology, pulmonology, cardiology, psychiatry and gastroenterology care.

Kelly also questions the fate of the Sabal Park clinic. Opened last May, the 30,000-square-foot satellite clinic replaced a Brandon clinic half its size.

But under the Department of Defense plans, the new clinic will close once all patients are transferred to civilian providers.

“It’s really disturbing as a taxpayer,” Kelly said of the clinic’s impending closure.

For Kelly and her family, the changes to MacDill and Sabal Park are disheartening, as the family originally moved to Tampa specifically seeking access to MacDill’s clinic and on-base commissary. They returned to the city after five years stationed in Japan.

While in Japan, they got news of changes as to who could access medical treatment at the local Navy clinic.

“We kind of saw this coming, but I didn’t expect that this would happen,” she said.

Due to the restructuring, retirees and their families will also face higher out-of-pocket costs. Co-pays will range from $20 for primary care visits, $31 for specialty care and $62 for emergency room services, as noted in an online post by the Military Officers Association of America.

The whole clinic transition plan stems from the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, which directed the Department of Defense to “assess our hospitals and clinics, and to make recommendations for restructuring those facilities to ensure they are focused on military and force readiness,” said Defense official McCaffery.

He added that plans can be reassessed and adjusted as necessary.

In a Feb. 19 report to Congress outlining its plans, the Department of Defense noted that details of costs involved in this restructuring, any changes to personnel working at the impacted clinics, and a timeline of all the changes are yet to come.

“The bottom line for our beneficiaries is that we will help guide them through every step of the enrollment change process when the time for action arrives,” McCaffery said.

Yet beneficiaries like Kelly still have no clue how successful the transition will be.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kelly said.

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