Military retirees and their family members who use Tricare Select risk losing health coverage if they don't arrange to begin paying new enrollment fees by Jan. 1, Tricare officials said Monday.
As of Nov. 9, just 14% of households currently using Tricare Select had set up a process for paying enrollment fees for the program, either by military allotment, electronic funds transfer, debit or credit card, according to officials.
Tricare's regional contractors have mailed several notices to affected beneficiaries, but officials remain concerned that this group of beneficiaries may not know they need to begin paying enrollment fees for Tricare Select.
Those affected are known as Group A retirees: they're under age 65 and entered the military before Jan. 1, 2018. Family members and survivors of Group A retirees are also affected.
Mark Ellis, chief of policy and programs for Tricare, told reporters Monday that there are "legitimate concerns that this particular patient population" may be unaware of the upcoming change.
"If indeed they had been in Tricare Standard ... with no enrollment fees or premiums, and transitioned to Tricare Select with no enrollment fees ... we have some concerns that this beneficiary population needs to be educated to make informed decisions whether or not they want to continue to have Tricare coverage," Ellis said.
Beginning Dec. 31, beneficiaries other than active-duty family members on Tricare Select must pay $12.50 per month, or $150 per year, for an individual, or $25 per month, or $300 per year for a family.
The fees were instituted by the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The Pentagon had planned originally to begin charging them in 2018, but they were delayed until 2021.
The premiums do not apply to family members of active-duty personnel who use Tricare Select, nor do they affect military retirees or dependents on Tricare for Life.
Ellis said about 850,000 beneficiaries are affected by the change. He did not say what percentage of those have set up payment processes, only that 14% of households, which often contain more than one beneficiary, have responded.
Beneficiaries who set up payments do not pay anything in advance; their fees will be deducted after the start of the year.
Those who neglect to set up their payment processes will have up to 180 days to reinstate their coverage, but they will be required to pay their monthly premiums back to January. Coverage will be retroactive: any claims filed under lapsed coverage would be paid once the premiums have been processed.
Beneficiaries who fail to set up premium payments will receive at least three phone calls to phones listed on file by Tricare contractors to notify them about the change and help them with setting up payments if necessary, Ellis said.
Open enrollment season for Tricare and the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program is currently underway, meaning that Tricare beneficiaries can enroll in or change between Tricare Prime and Tricare Select.
Also during open enrollment, which runs through Dec. 14, retirees can obtain dental coverage or swap plans, and military family members, retirees and other eligible Tricare beneficiaries can obtain vision coverage.
Information on dental and vision plans by geographic region is available on the BENEFEDS website.
Contact information for Tricare's contractors -- Humana Military in Tricare East, Health Net Federal Services in the West and International SOS overseas -- and more information on Tricare Select enrollment fees are available on Tricare's website.
"Please don't let your coverage lapse, please contact your regional contractor if you want to keep your Tricare coverage," Ellis said.