Retirees facing long waits for medical visits
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — About two months into a change in the way the Osan Air Base hospital schedules appointments, some retirees say they may face much longer waits than before.
Under the change, made Oct. 1, retirees and others covered by the Tricare Standard medical plan can be given a space-available appointment only if one is open within 48 hours from the time they ask. If not, they have to keep calling until such an opening occurs.
Previously, for a routine appointment, they could be given a space-available slot even if it were weeks away.
Hospital officials changed that policy in an effort to ensure that active-duty servicemembers and others covered by Tricare Prime get the appointments they need as quickly as possible, said Lt. Col. Stephen M. Mounts, commander of Osan’s 51st Medical Support Squadron.
The change was part of an overall move to improve the appointment system, one that also has included hiring a second appointments clerk, Mounts said.
The new 48-hour rule at Osan is posing difficulties for some retirees, said Jack Terwiel, Army Retirement Services Officer for South Korea.
“Retirees have reported to me spending days trying to get an appointment,” Terwiel said. He said about 300 military retirees live in the Osan Air Base-Camp Humphreys vicinity, which is in Pyeongtaek, about an hour’s drive south of Seoul.
The U.S. military health system is required to give priority to Tricare Prime patients under a formula that sets forth specific time periods within which those appointments must be made, Mounts said.
No such requirements exist for those under Tricare Standard, said Mounts. Instead, they are given appointments on a space-available basis in U.S. military health facilities.
Mounts said the appointment system functioned as “somewhat of an open door” for retirees and others in space-available status.
“I think it’s what folks get used to,” said Mounts. But, he said, that practice had been maintained at the hospital’s discretion and had never been something it was required to do.
Although retirees may incur a longer wait to get an appointment, the hospital’s services are still available to them and other Tricare Standard beneficiaries, Mounts said.
“There’s no change in benefit,” he said. “They still have access to care.”
Terwiel said he understands the hospital’s aim of ensuring that active-duty personnel and other Tricare Prime enrollees quickly get their appointments.
But he said a policy that introduces delay and difficulty falls short of what many retirees believe the U.S. military promised them.
That issue has been taken up at the Defense Department level and in the courts, Terwiel said.
“A lot of retirees keep saying, ‘They promised lifetime medical care, and they’re not living up to their end of the bargain,’ ” he said. “That’s something that DOD has been dealing with for a number of years, without satisfactory resolution, at least to the retiree community.”
Active-duty servicemembers and others covered by Tricare Prime are given priority for hospital appointments, which must be provided under the following standards of the U.S. military’s health system:
Within 24 hours: For any acute but non-emergency medical needs, such as a severe cough, fever or flu.Within seven days: Any routine medical issue — for example, persistent shoulder pain, chronic cough, unexpected weight loss.Within 28 days: Special referrals, such as when a primary care physician wants a patient seen by a specialist. Also for cancer screening, medication refill and similar types of appointments.— Franklin Fisher