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Services Continue to Move Patients Back to Base Hospitals

FILE – A doctor examines a patient while another doctor oversees the procedure, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jack Sanders)
FILE – A doctor examines a patient while another doctor oversees the procedure, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jack Sanders)

An effort to move Tricare Prime users from civilian doctors and into the military treatment facility system continues, military medical officials told, with some families involuntarily reassigned to their nearest hospital.

Army, Air Force and Navy officials said at least some of their facilities continue to move or "invite" Tricare Prime users back into the system.

At Air Force-led Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska, for example, some users within a 30-minute drive of the hospital were recently notified by mail that they had been reassigned, officials confirmed.

In 2014, the Army and Navy launched an effort to involuntarily move Tricare Prime users who saw civilian primary care providers near bases to doctors within a military treatment facility. Troops and their families were notified by mail with about 60 to 90 days' notice that they would receive a new primary care provider. The Air Force did not have an organized program, but did move some users.

In 2016, Adm. Raquel Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency, told that moving patients back into the MTF system, which carries lower costs than allowing them to be seen by civilian doctors through Tricare, continued to be a priority.

Service officials said the effort is still underway. Twelve Army bases are currently part of the ongoing recapture program, said Maria Tolleson, an Army medicine spokesperson, while the Navy has focused its efforts systemwide, officials said.

"Every Navy military treatment facility continues to actively identify and implement opportunities to fill excess capacity," Jessica Alexander, a Navy medicine spokesperson, said in a statement. "Our effort to increase enrollment to our direct-care system was an enterprise-wide endeavor to ensure optimal use of taxpayer funds."

Between 2014 and 2016, more than 85,000 Tricare Prime users were moved to Navy and Army hospitals through the recapture program, officials said.

The Air Force does not have an ongoing organized servicewide recapture effort, officials said, instead leaving management up to individual locations.

In 2016, about 4 percent of available Air Force MTF primary care appointments went unused, officials said, up from 1.6 percent in 2013.

And the number of Air Force Tricare Prime patients located near a military treatment facility and enrolled on base has also dropped. In 2013, about 77 percent of those users were enrolled on base; that number decreased to 66 percent in 2016.

In 2016, 85 percent of eligible Tricare Prime nearby users were enrolled at Navy MTFs, up from 80 percent in 2013.

Data on Army enrollment rate were not available.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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