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Beneficiaries Can Help Avoid Medical Bill Problems

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2000 – There are several steps TRICARE beneficiaries can take to avoid getting in hot water over unpaid medical bills, military health care officials said.

TRICARE officials have learned several lessons since implementing the Debt Collection Assistance Officer program, July 26. The program is designed to help beneficiaries deal with unpaid medical bills that have been sent to a collection agent or a credit bureau.

The beneficiary should first make sure information on the TRICARE explanation of benefits notification is correct. "It's easy for mistakes to occur when people are coding in numbers and letters," said Marcia Bonifas, TRICARE Management Activity's director of customer service and beneficiary education. "If a social security number or procedure code is one number off, it can result in a claim denial."

"This can be resolved much more quickly if the beneficiary notices the problem and immediately calls the claims processor," she said.

Beneficiaries should also make better use of beneficiary counseling and assistance coordinators at each military medical treatment facility. "When beneficiaries receive a dunning notice, a notice that the bill has not yet gone to a collection agency but it will if not paid within 30 days, the coordinators will take that on and work with the claims processor to get it paid," Bonifas said.

This advice also applies to any bill beneficiaries don't understand. "If you get a bill and you're not sure what it is, get it in to your TRICARE Service Center and get them engaged early," Air Force Col. Frank Cumberland, the agency's director of communications, said. "Individuals should identify problems as early as they sense them. We want to solve problems as early in the process as possible."

Since the program began, Bonifas noted, beneficiaries have made good use of the Internet to get correct information about the debt collection program. "They see it on the front page [of the TRICARE home page] and know exactly where they need to go if they get some sort of notification or have a question," she said.

About 300 claims have been brought to the debt collection assistance officers, and officials say half of them have been resolved already. "Our goal is to get each claim settled within 30 days of our finding out about it," Bonifas said.

For more information, visit the TRICARE Management Activity Debt Collection Assistance web page at www.tricare.osd.mil/dcao/.

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