Tricare Authorizations and Referrals

Doctor Nurses Diagnosis

Tricare Prime beneficiaries need to know about both referrals and authorizations. If you are using Tricare Select, you don't typically need a referral for routine or specialty care, but there are some instances when you do need to get prior authorization so you don't have to pay for services.

First, let's review some terms:

  • Referral:  Where a primary care manager (PCM) or provider identifies a need for specialty care or services. 
  • Authorization: The determination that the requested service is:
    • Medically necessary
    • Delivered in the appropriate setting
    • A Tricare benefit
    • Cost-shared by DoD through its contract

Next, let's look at the referral process.  Referral Management happens when a PCM refers you for services outside of the PCM's capability to provide needed care (diagnostic tests, outpatient surgery, home health care, etc.).  The PCM decides what type of provider you should see, for how long and for what services.  The need for a referral may vary if you are enrolled to a Military Treatment Facility (MTF) or civilian network provider.  In general, the following steps apply if you are enrolled to a network provider and may explain the time needed for you to get an authorization:

1. The PCM submits the referral.

2. The regional contractor works with the local MTF to determine if it can meet your health care needs.

  • If the MTF can provide the service, it has one business day to decide if it has the capacity to see you. 
  • If the MTF can't provide the service, the referral goes back to the contractor, who then determines the appropriate network specialty care provider.  For example, what specialist should the beneficiary see? Can the care be authorized? 

3. When the referral goes back to the contractor, the contractor checks for availability of network providers within one-hour travel time from the beneficiary's residence.   

a. If a network provider is available, you will be able to see them. 

b. If a network provider is not available, the contractor works with other  TRICARE-network or authorized providers to arrange for your care.   4. The contractor then issues a letter to you and the specialty provider listing the medical services you are authorized to receive.  




Tricare For Life

No referrals. Some services need prior authorization.

Be sure to follow Medicare rules.*

Authorization required sometimes when Medicare-covered services are exhausted and or services are not covered and Tricare is primary payer. Be sure to follow Medicare rules.*
Tricare Select No referrals. Some services need prior authorization. Your provider must request prior authorization from your regional contractor, when needed.

Tricare Prime members who are:

  • Active duty service members enrolled in Tricare Prime Remote
  • Activated, Called or ordered to active duty service for more than 30 days in a row. Guard/Reserve members enrolled in Tricare Prime Remote
  • All other beneficiaries enrolled in Tricare Prime, Tricare Prime Remote, or Tricare Young Adult-Prime


You are authorized up to two urgent care visits each year (without a referral or authorization from your PCM. You can visit any Tricare-authorized provider.

Urgent care is care you need for a non-emergency illness or injury. You need urgent care treatment within 24 hours, and you shouldn't have to travel more than 30 minutes for the care. You typically need urgent care to treat a condition that:

  • Doesn't threaten life, limb, or eyesight.
  • Needs attention before it becomes a serious risk to your health.

Examples may include things like a high fever or sprained ankle. Urgent care is different than emergency care.

If you are unsure if you need urgent care, you can call the Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-TRICARE (800-874-2273), option 1

If you get a pre-authorization from the Nurse Advice Line for urgent care, it won't count against your two visit limit.

After you meet the two visit limit each fiscal year, you must have a referral from your PCM for any urgent care they can't provide.

Without a referral, you'll be using the point-of-service option. 

Tricare Prime

Referrals needed from your PCM for specialty care services. Without a referral you pay higher out-of-pocket costs (point of service option).

Your PCM coordinates the referral through the MTF or regional contractor, who finds a specialty provider for you.

You and the specialty provider receive letters listing the services you are authorized to receive.

Your PCM will request prior authorization from your regional contractor when needed.

*Keep in mind that you must adhere to Medicare procedures to ensure proper coverage from both Medicare and Tricare.

Be aware there some services require a separate, prior authorization review.  Be sure an authorization is in place so you don't have to pay for the services out of pocket.  You can check on your authorization by calling your regional contractor found at the Tricare Contact Us web page.

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