JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 22, 2024 –
To ensure the greatest outreach, the military often locates its recruiters and their families close to communities with eligible youth, but far from the peer support and healthcare resources of an installation.
To help fill this gap in support, leaders from the Air Force Recruiting Service, Defense Health Agency and TRICARE, the military’s healthcare program, met Jan. 11 to discuss the unique challenges military recruiters face in remote locations, particularly from a healthcare standpoint, and to brainstorm solutions.
“We charge our recruiters with the critical job of finding youth willing and able to serve and protect our nation,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Amrhein, commander, Air Force Recruiting Service. “In turn, it’s our responsibility to support these Airmen and their families to the absolute best of our ability.”
Whether they’re assigned to the military resource-rich city of San Antonio or a remote seaside town in Maine, “our service members and their families deserve the same access to personal, safe, effective health care,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Harrell, director of Defense Health Network Central. DHN Central is DHA’s largest and most complex health care network with 39 hospitals and clinics around the world.
Most active-duty service members and their families who live and work in designated remote locations opt to sign up for TRICARE Prime Remote, a no-fee plan for beneficiaries whose home and work addresses are more than 50 miles, or one hour’s drive time, from the nearest military medical facility. The drive time standard is crucial for recruiters stationed in traffic-heavy cities like Chicago, where an hour drive can quickly extend to two or three.
While the plan provides flexibility and options, it also brings associated challenges. During the meeting, leaders touched on several key issues identified in surveys and during interactions with recruiters and their families to include:
• A lack of providers/specialists within the community due, in part, to a nationwide, post-pandemic shortage in healthcare professionals.
• The need for updated “find a doc” directories to avoid having providers listed who no longer take TRICARE. This also helps prevents the risk of excessive travel or out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.
• A lack of clarity on TRICARE Prime Remote benefits, to include the Prime travel reimbursement.
• Costs associated with prescriptions from a network pharmacy and a potential delay in home delivery from Express Scripts (https://militaryrx.express-scripts.com/home-delivery).
“We see people when they have a health issue; when they are feeling vulnerable and concerned,” Harrell said. “The last thing we want is for them to struggle with health care access.”
Some challenges, to include the lack of healthcare professionals, are broader in scope and will take time to resolve through recruiting and retention efforts. In conjunction with this effort, DHA is taking steps to ease health care navigation and improve patient education and information, noted Paul Wuerdeman, DHA lead provider network subject matter expert and a former Army recruiter.
To start, AFRS leaders are working to identify the locations with the greatest access or provider directory challenges to enable DHA to focus on areas where the most improvements are needed.
AFRS also plans to step up its efforts to educate recruiters and their families about their health care options, Amrhein noted. As an example, the recruiting service is planning to launch a monthly TRICARE briefing for Air Force recruiters in training and their families.
“Our aim is to provide our recruiters with health care information prior to their first assignment,” the general said. “We want them to feel supported from the start.”
The briefing will include information on Prime Remote, ancillary services such as pharmacy, and the Prime Travel Benefit. This benefit covers travel expenses for active-duty family members who have a referral to a specialty care provider who is more than 100 miles, one-way, from their primary care manager’s office, and there’s no suitable provider closer.
Other positive changes will occur once the new TRICARE contract, known as T-5, is implemented in January 2025. The intent of the contract, according to a TRICARE release, is to offer greater provider network flexibility, improved provider options, enhanced telehealth resources, and more efficient referral transfers. Integral to this effort is ensuring directories accurately reflect current network providers.
With over 800,000 participating providers in TRICARE East alone, updating the directory is a heavy lift, noted Dr. James King Jr., DHA business operations specialist. To tackle this task, the new contract calls for the use of frequent and large-scale audits to ensure better accuracy when patients are seeking a network provider, he explained.
“We also encourage beneficiaries to contact TRICARE when they discover a provider who is no longer part of the network,” Wuerdeman added. “By doing so, it enables us to assist them with finding a participating provider and also helps us improve the system for others.”
The T-5 contract will help speed up this reporting process by adding a link to report provider discrepancies on the TRICARE West website. The link, which is located next to the provider’s name in the directory, is currently only offered on the TRICARE East page.
The meeting concluded with a renewed commitment to support military recruiters and their families.
“We care deeply about our military families and want to ensure they are taken care of no matter where they are located,” said Cathy Amrhein, who accompanied her husband to the meeting to provide a military spouse viewpoint.
With military recruitment in the spotlight, this effort to bolster force and family by improving access to care is more important now than ever before, her husband added.
“Our recruiters and their families live and work in areas different from the traditional military support structure,” the general said. “In turn, we need to do our part in ensuring they all have the support they need so America’s premier recruiters can stay laser focused on the mission.”
Improving access for recruiters is a step toward improving care for all service members, Harrell noted. “The lessons learned and solutions implemented will benefit all beneficiaries, especially those in remote locations,” he said. “As a Military Health System, we will continue to seek ways to care for our joint force and those we are privileged and honored to serve.”
For additional information on Prime Remote, visit https://tricare.mil/primeremote. For questions or concerns about health care benefits, beneficiaries are encouraged to contact TRICARE at one of the following numbers:
• East Region (Humana) at 1-800-444-5445
• West Region (HealthNet) at 1-844-866-9378.
• For the TRICARE Overseas Program visit https://www.tricare-overseas.com/contact-us