Tricare is no longer sending most beneficiaries notices by postal mail and instead will be pushing them through the Defense Department's Milconnect website, according to a new Defense Department plan announced Oct. 1.
Effective immediately, users will no longer receive notifications by mail about Tricare enrollment or disenrollment, changes to their primary care managers, Medicare eligibility notices, dental status changes or informational letters about Tricare Reserve Select, Tricare Retired Reserve or Early Tricare eligibility for Guard and Reserve members, Tricare officials said. The decision is aimed at curbing paper use and printing and postage costs, officials said.
Instead users with a valid email address in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) system will receive a notice via email that they have received a message waiting for them in Milconnect. If the user does not have a working email address on file with DEERS they will instead receive a postcard through the postal service telling them to log on to Milconnect. Neither the postcard nor the notification email will say what the message on Milconnect contains. Users must login to Milconnect to see their information, Tricare officials said.
"The Department of Defense is seeking to reduce unnecessary costs and environmental impacts associated with distribution of information via paper which can more quickly and easily be disseminated to beneficiaries through electronic means," Kevin Dwyer, a Tricare spokesman, said in a statement.
Officials said the change is unlikely to impact Tricare for Life users, with the exception of any notices they might receive through the Tricare dental retiree program. Additionally, information for the Extended Health Care Option (ECHO) program, information for military survivors and special mailings such as early reminder letters will continue to arrive via postal mail, they said.
Often the notices sent by email will contain information the user should already know is coming, officials said.
"In some cases the beneficiary may already know about the change in benefits because of a recent birthday or marriage of child, divorce from sponsor, recent voluntary disenrollment from TRICARE, change in PCM, etc.," Dwyer said.
There is no way to fully opt-out of using the Milconnect system to receive notifications, officials said. If users don't have a computer at home, they will need to come up with an alternate plan on their own.
"If the beneficiary does not have a personal computer, he or she may have access via a family member or a local library. In some cases, the postcards contain contact information for the regional contractor so the beneficiary may call the contractor with questions," Dwyer said.
If a user absolutely cannot access his notice, Dwyer said he can call DoD's DMDC helpdesk at 1-800-538-9552 or email them at DMDCeCorrespondence@mail.mil to receive a printed letter.
Officials said the Defense Department will save $2 million a year by moving Tricare notices to email and sending postcards instead of full letters. They said they expect that savings to grow as more and more users become accustomed with using the Milconnect system or update their email addresses in DEERS.
Tricare has 9.6 million users. Only 3.5 million email addresses are on file in DEERS, according to Tricare officials.
Still, making the new notification system mandatory immediately strikes some military benefit activists as poorly guided.
"It would be more helpful just starting out to see how many people would opt out of the letters and then just phase in email as time goes on," said Kathy Beasley, a deputy director of government relations at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). "I think that would be a more customer focused approach for the beneficiary."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@monster.com