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TRICARE Works Hard to Beef Up Customer Service

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., May 24, 2001 – In December 1999, TRICARE was facing 30,535 claims still unpaid after 60 days. By March 2001, the grand total rode at four -- a 99.99 percent drop.

"Our feedback from senior line and enlisted leadership is that the field is reporting far, far fewer problems with TRICARE," said Air Force Col. Frank Cumberland. "Military community town hall meetings used to be all about TRICARE, but now people are more concerned with other quality of life issues. TRICARE is seen as a program that people like -- especially as they have more experience using it."

Cumberland is director of communications and customer service for the TRICARE Management Activity here. He said improvements in claims processing is just one example of TRICARE's commitment to customer service.

"We try to benchmark what we're doing on the customer service side with what's going on in industry," Cumberland said. Compared with civilian health maintenance organization statistics, TRICARE fares well.

The American Medical Association News reported in the Nov. 6, 2000, issue that "38 percent of physician practices reported that it takes, on average, more than 45 days to receive payment" on a claim. The same publication had reported in March 2000 that uncontested claims took insurers an average of 69 days to pay.

TRICARE's average turnaround now is 12 days, Cumberland said.

The kick-off of the TRICARE Senior Pharmacy Program April 1 was "maybe the biggest test ever from a customer-service standpoint," he said. The program added 1.5 million new beneficiaries to the TRICARE system overnight and, by all accounts, went off without a hitch.

The start of the new program was also a huge communications success, Cumberland said. "The communications staff had to work hard ahead of time so people knew what to do on the day the program began," he said.

Officials hope recent improvements to the TRICARE benefit, such as TRICARE for Life, the Senior Pharmacy Program, TRICARE Prime Remote for Family Members and elimination of co-payments for active-duty family members, will have a positive impact on retention as well.

"As individuals sit around the kitchen table and debate the pros and cons of going or staying in the military, we want them to factor TRICARE in," Cumberland said. "The changes that have happened in the past year are as significant a benefit enhancement as anything I have ever seen in the military."

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