A physician assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, examines her patient on Nov. 28, 2020. (U.S. Army/John Wayne Liston)
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How Military Families End Up With Massive Hospital Bills

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Community Support
November 3, 2023
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TRICARE, the healthcare program serving the United States military community, has been both praised for its benefits and criticized for its failings over the years. It plays a crucial role in ensuring the well-being of active-duty service members, veterans, and their families. That said, if you’ve experienced the shortcomings, or downright failures, their benefits begin to mean very little. 

Here is the testimony of one military family that received a staggering bill while still unsure if their newborn would survive.

Unfortunately, Tricare is still essentially an insurance type of organization, and so failures of one sort or another are as expected as smashing your shin on the furniture walking in the dark. Provider networks can be limited, leading to difficulties in finding in-network care, particularly in certain geographic areas. This can result in long wait times for appointments, or undue expenses if you’re ‘out of network’. 

Beneficiaries often face complex administrative processes, including paperwork and authorizations, which can be time-consuming and frustrating, because of course paperwork. They may not cover certain medical procedures, prescription medications, or alternative therapies, leaving beneficiaries to bear these costs themselves. Getting access to that specialty care mentioned earlier can be a challenge, especially for those in remote locations or heavily trafficked systems, and referrals and approvals for such care can be slow, impacting timely treatment. 

While Tricare does provide mental health services, the system has faced criticism for not adequately addressing the unique mental health needs of the military community, which is alarming considering the community is exactly whom they are designed to serve. Finally, Tricare has undergone various reforms, including a shift towards more privatized care. Critics argue that this can lead to reduced oversight and quality control, potentially affecting the standard of care provided to military beneficiaries.

Given all of these potential hazards, one would not be wrong to view the organization with a critical eye. Some of these issues can be aided by doing what service members and veterans frequently have to do: stare the right person down until they relent and get the issue corrected. When money gets involved, on the other hand, by the time the issues are corrected, if they can be corrected, the damage is done. 

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