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Sergeant Helps TRICARE Communicators Focus on Patient Needs

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Nov. 4, 1999 – Depending on who you talk to, TRICARE is either great or it stinks and DoD should keep it or can it.

But more than half of those at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base who use the military's managed health care system say they can't complain, Master Sgt. Peter Kraft told TRICARE communications, customer service and education specialists attending a conference here Nov. 2-4.

Kraft brought the line perspective to the conference Nov. 2 at the invitation of Air Force Col. Frank Cumberland, communications director for the TRICARE Management Activity and conference host. Cumberland said he wanted the group to hear up front how "users" view TRICARE.

As first sergeant of the 377th Security Forces Squadron and president of the Kirtland First Sergeants Council, Kraft said he's been able to get a solid feel for how airmen and their families feel about their medical care. Before the conference, he conducted an informal survey of TRICARE users and shared survey results with the conferees.

Among the things airmen like about TRICARE, he said, is the quality of customer service.

"A lot say it's very good, friendly and sensitive to patient needs," Kraft reported. Medics show a "sincere desire to help," he said. For the most part, he said, Kirtland airmen believe their families are being well taken care of.

On the other hand, some aspects of TRICARE raise the airmen's ire, he said. Among their gripes, they list co-pays for care received from contract providers, complex rules and, most of all, unexpected bills.

"It's frustrating that you have to deal with bills for services that you weren't supposed to have to pay for," said Kraft, adding he is among those who have been billed improperly by contractors. "If we could go to a provider, pay the co-pay and not worry about another bill coming in the mail, it would be much better."

Many survey respondents, Kraft said, would prefer not to have to get care off base. They want military doctors taking care of military patients, he said, and that would also eliminate co- pays and bills.

They also want more information, and Kraft suggested that TRICARE provide information in commissaries and exchanges that answer all the basic questions people have about the health plan. He also suggested that basic TRICARE information such as telephone numbers be included on service members' leave and earnings statements.

Kraft's comments and suggestions fueled discussions throughout the conference and set the tone for a productive conference that focused on customer needs and satisfaction.

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