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Poll: Military Retirees Unaware of Upcoming Tricare Changes

Medical coverage. Getty Images
Medical coverage. Getty Images

Most military retirees are unaware of major Tricare coverage and fee changes coming January 1, according to poll results released today.

The poll, conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) between Oct. 26 and Nov. 8, found that 52 percent of respondents were unaware that any Tricare changes are coming Jan 1. Over 11,800 people the poll.

Of those who took the poll, 30 percent identified as Tricare Prime retiree users, but only 12 percent said they were aware that their Prime copays will increase Jan. 1, VFW officials said in a release. And only 32 percent of users polled who receive medication through Tricare's mail order system said they were aware of an upcoming change requiring them to opt-in for currently automatic medication refills.

All Tricare users will experience a series of major changes beginning Jan. 1.

The VFW poll also found that users prefer Tricare's current cost-sharing payment system over a new flat-rate fee system that will start Jan. 1.

Currently most fees for care are based on a "percentage of allowed cost" system, and the amount users pay out of pocket depends on location, type of doctor seen and type of appointment, among other factors.

But a system set to roll out Jan. 1 shifts most care to flat rate system with one fee for appointments with specialists and one for primary care. Under that plan active duty or Reserve and Guard users will pay $34 to see an in-network specialist while retirees will pay $45.

Non-preventative primary care appointments will cost active duty families and Guard or Reserve users $27, while retirees will pay $35.

Officials with Tricare said they have worked to tell users about the upcoming changes through letters, hand-outs, social media, newsletters, podcasts, blog posts and public appearances, among other methods.

"The Defense Health Agency has been and continues to be very active in communicating pending Tricare changes to our beneficiary population,” Kevin Dwyer, a Tricare spokesman, said in a statement. “Continued outreach activities are planned for the future and will include updates that continue past Jan. 1, 2018."

Officials with the National Military Family Association said although they have not conducted a survey, they believe active duty families are also largely unaware of the upcoming changes.

"Active duty families have no idea what's coming. We have done everything we can to get the word out, but even our association -- which as tracked these changes meticulously -- has gotten several unpleasant surprises in terms of what the Defense Health Agency has done to out-of-pocket costs," Karen Ruedisueli, a deputy director of government relations for the organization, said in a statement.

"I imagine we will see a big reaction from military families once the bills start rolling in with the new copays," she added. "It's unfortunate, but I think this is how most currently serving families will learn about Tricare reform."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.