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CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Defense Department civilians and pay patients needing medical care should seek out less frequently used clinics to avoid long waits for appointments or costly emergency room visits, U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa’s commanding officer said.

Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s clinic regularly operates at far lower capacities than the normally full Camp Lester clinic, only about five miles away, said Capt. Rick Becker at an open meeting with concerned citizens recently.

Clinics at Camp Courtney and Camp Kinser also generally operate at lower capacities than clinics at larger bases.

An added plus for registering at a less busy clinic is a visit often costs far less than an emergency room visit.

“We’re doing our best to get the word out to register with a primary-care physician [at a clinic] so people don’t feel forced to use the emergency room,” Becker said.

While servicemembers get free health care and have priority for medical appointments, workers such as teachers and support staff rely on health insurance programs and standby availability at clinics.

Civilians forced to rely on the emergency room without health insurance face an even greater burden.

Monique Williams, a teacher at Kadena Air Base’s Bob Hope Primary School, shared her frustrations with Becker and others at the meeting.

Williams said she was forced to bring her dependent mother overseas before she could obtain health insurance for her. When her mother got sick, a day at the hospital cost her nearly $6,300.

Costs for emergency-room visits are set by the Department of Defense, Becker said.

“Then I need to get on a plane and go to Congress. I need to go to Washington, D.C.,” said Williams.

Other teachers with insurance shared their frustrations with the lack of support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Aetna, two of the most prevalent insurers among Defense Department civilians.

Civilians can mitigate at least some of those costs by using the less busy clinics, Becker said.

Those who register with a clinic will have access to the same regular health providers, who will have prompt access to the patient’s medical history, a hospital spokeswoman said.

To register, patients first should make sure that they and their dependents are registered in the Defense Eligibility and Enrollment Reporting System, or DEERS, database. If necessary, they should then create a new medical record, which can be done on the hospital’s first floor.

They should bring their insurance information to the hospital’s business office, also located on the hospital’s first floor. Once these steps are finished, the patient can make an appointment and register with the clinic of his or her choice, a hospital spokeswoman said.

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