Atwater health care services program set to close

Tricare center helps military, veterans with health services

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 22, 2013 

— A program at Castle that helps military retirees, active duty personnel and their dependents access health care services is scheduled to close next month.

The Tricare Service Center will close its doors Feb. 15.

Elizabeth Hillestad of TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which serves 21 states in the West Region, said the center works with clients on enrollment, claims, authorizations and referrals. It doesn't provide health care.

The Tricare Management Activity, established by the Department of Defense to manage the Tricare health care program, has awarded the service contract to UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans. It will become the new Tricare West Region contractor starting April 1. TriWest Healthcare Alliance no longer will be the contractor after that date.

As part of the transition, centers with a low number of customers will close.

The center in Atwater is inside the Castle Family Health Centers, but is not part of that operation. The Merced County program is one of 10 that will close in the West Region, Hillestad said.

"It was an action by the government (Department of Defense) to close low-use facilities," said Hillestad, who didn't know how many customers are typically served in Atwater.

Linda Dash, office manager for Tricare in Atwater, didn't return calls seeking comment Tuesday. Representatives with UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans Services also could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Customers typically go in if they have questions about their services, Hillestad said. For example, they could use it to check to see if a claim or referral had been processed or if they want to change doctors.

Customers can continue to receive those services by phone or online, Hillestad said. She wouldn't speculate on whether customers could be affected by no longer receiving services in person.

Jim Kanabay, a veteran who uses the center in Atwater, said Dash goes above and beyond to help military retirees and those on active duty.

Not having the in-person service could come at a significant expense, especially for the elderly, said Kanabay. Although he's the county's veterans services officer, he stressed that he wasn't speaking in his official capacity but only as a veteran.

"I think it's going to make it a little more difficult for veterans to get some of their health insurance ... Tricare issues resolved," he said.

Any complaints are being passed on to Tricare Management Activity, Hillestad said. "It's not really our decision," she added.

After Feb. 15, beneficiaries who used the center in Atwater can refer authorizations, claims and questions to TriWest Healthcare Alliance or can log in to view their information at www.triwest.com.

After April 1, they can refer enrollment, payment and all Tricare questions to UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans Services at (877) 988-9378 or www.uhcmilitarywest.com.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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