The Defense Department will close its 189 walk-in Tricare Service Centers in the U.S., a money-saving move that is part of the reorganization of the military medical system under the Defense Health Agency.
Tricare officials said Nov. 14 that the walk-in centers, which provide beneficiaries with face-to-face assistance on claims paperwork, enrollment changes, processing and more, were inefficient and underutilized.
After a year-long review, military health system leaders concluded that customers could be better served with a toll-free Tricare telephone customer service center or online.
“We were making beneficiaries come to us rather than bringing customer service to them. We are now re-engineering how we deliver service, and removing any requirement for beneficiaries to ‘walk in’ at limited, prescribed hours of the day to get their questions answered or problems solved,” Tricare spokesman Austin Camacho said.
Many centers are located within military hospitals and clinics, but some are in freestanding buildings on military installations or in the nearby civilian community. They often are staffed with one or two individuals.
According to data provided by Tricare, utilization rates at service centers have varied from eight to 3,000 customers per month. The cost of running a center ranges from $30 to $216 per walk-in customer.
“We saw that many Tricare Service Centers were seeing small numbers of walk-in customers each day. It didn't make sense to continue this approach from a customer service perspective or from a cost perspective,” Camacho said.
Closing the centers will save a projected $250 million over the next five years.
To accommodate additional customers, Tricare’s toll-free customer service call centers will be improved, to include adequate staff and technology upgrades, according to Camacho.
Tricare also will bolster its online capacity and provide mobile applications for “customer-friendly alternatives,“ he said.
Overseas Tricare Service Centers will not be affected.
The changeover is likely to begin in spring 2014 but Tricare is still “refining” its plan, Camacho said.