Bulletin: Delegation with Walden on TRICARE
Keep prime plan for military personnel in Oregon, letter urges
by Andrew Clevenger
WASHINGTON — Oregon’s entire congressional delegation has taken up Rep. Greg Walden’s concern over possible changes to the health care plan for members and retirees of the armed services, National Guard and Reserves.
On Wednesday, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Walden, Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader wrote to Dr. James Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, worried that possible changes to TRICARE in Oregon would mean tens of thousands would lose access to TRICARE Prime, a managed-care plan similar to an HMO.
Instead, more military members, retirees and their families would have to use TRICARE Standard, a fee-for-service plan that also includes the burden of filing their own paperwork on claims.
Walden, R-Hood River, was concerned about reports that United Healthcare when it takes over administration of TRICARE in Oregon from TriWest in April 2013 will only offer TRICARE Prime within 40 miles of military treatment facilities. The only qualified facilities in Oregon are located at Coast Guard bases in Astoria and North Bend.
“While this might not have a significant impact in a smaller state, or one with more active-duty military installations, this will have a major impact on Oregon TRICARE users," the letter reads.
“We understand there is concern about the costs associated with medical care for military members and retirees, but this proposal unfairly penalizes residents of select states and areas. In addition, imposing these changes without significant prior notice is simply wrong," the letter continues.
The Oregon delegation asked for the opportunity to discuss the facts and rationale behind the rumored change, as well as possible alternatives to changing the plans’ availability.
Cynthia Smith, a Department of Defense spokeswoman, said a final decision has not been made regarding the availability of TRICARE Prime.
She declined to comment on the delegation’s letter, saying that Woodson will respond directly to the members of Congress as appropriate.
“Any possible change would not affect active-duty military and their families," she said.
In 2007, when the latest version of the TRICARE contract was issued, the government required only Prime network development around military treatment facilities.
According to a map on TriWest’s website, Washington state has 10 TRICARE facilities.
Idaho and Montana, which are in the same operational area of responsibility as Oregon, have only one military treatment facility each — Mountain Home Air Force Base and Malmstrom Air Force Base, respectively.
Overall, TRICARE serves about 9.7 million active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve members and retirees, as well as their families and survivors.