I’m Still a Tricare Delinquent

[As this post goes live, Tropical Storm Flossie is approaching the Hawaii islands.  It’s borderline hurricane strength, and despite that wussy dental name it’s still going to dump 6-10 inches of rain on us. It’s quite possible that Oahu electricity & Internet will go out. My tiny little share of a Bluehost server is on the Mainland and I have the blog loaded up through Monday 5 August, so the posts should keep on coming in autopilot. I may not be able to respond to comments and e-mails, or moderate the spam, but I’ll get back online when I have power and bandwidth.

No worries. My spouse is a meteorologist and a (retired) military emergency preparedness officer. We’ve been through Hurricane Iniki and several near misses over the last two decades, and we have a good hurricane readiness checklist. We’ll be hunkered down inspecting the waterproof integrity of Hale Nords and– when the power goes out– partying like it’s 1799.]

A couple of months ago I posted a rant about the fumbling transition of the Tricare Western Region contract from TriWest to UnitedHealthcare. I never expected that anyone could make TriWest look good, but UHC is compelling me to reconsider my opinion. Since that post went up, other unhappy readers have shared their stories in the comments.

When we wrapped up my last cliffhanger episode post, UHC had admitted that they’d messed up my March request (and my April followup inquiry) to deduct their monthly fees from my checking account. They couldn’t catch up on the deductions for April, May, or June, so we decided that I’d charge those to my credit card. In return, they agreed to process my original electronic funds transfer request to start in July. They read back my credit union’s routing transaction number and my checking account number and confirmed that they were all set.

By the middle of July, UHC had still not managed to deduct my premium payment from my checking account.

A week later, I received the following UHC form letter in the postal mail:

“Dear Tricare Beneficiary:

Thank you for entrusting your healthcare needs to UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans. Due to your Electronic Funds Transfer or Reoccuring [sic] Credit Card payment method being returned or rejected, a balance of $134.64 is now due on your account. This balance includes a $20 administrative fee for your returned payment.

[…payment instructions and enclosed forms…]

If payment is not received by the end of the calendar month, unfortunatley [sic] you will be disenrolled from your Tricare coverage.

We are grateful for the opportunity to serve you.”

This was my first notice of that problem. Navy Federal Credit Union had not complained about my EFT. It took UHC nearly two weeks to generate that letter (and another week to snail-mail it to Hawaii). Their website has my account information, including my e-mail address and phone number, but apparently, they couldn’t figure out a faster way to let me know about the problem.

I called UHC’s toll-free number and slogged through the computer menu. When a human came on the line, I asked her to review my file to get up to speed on the problems stretching back to April. When she agreed that I was still delinquent (and about to have my coverage cut off), I asked her to transfer me to a supervisor so that we could have more power to fix their problem. She told me she wasn’t sure that she had a supervisor available, but one might be able to call me back within 24 hours. I asked her to inform a supervisor that I was wondering if I should file a second grievance with Tricare. Maybe my request wasn’t strictly necessary, let alone appropriate, but a supervisor was on the line within five minutes.

Once we confirmed that the supervisor could see all the problems in my file, I asked her what caused my credit union to reject the EFT request. She said that the error was “Account number does not match“. I asked her to read back the RTN and account number.  Yep, UHC’s staff had somehow entered one digit incorrectly.

Further research confirmed that I’d given UHC the correct numbers, so they obligingly removed the $20 fee. I gave them another credit-card charge for $134.64 to cover the premiums for July, August, and September. The supervisor agreed to set up the EFT to start in October (nearly seven months after my original request). We once again “verified” that UHC had the correct checking account number (and this time they really mean it).

The good news is that the supervisor has promised to personally check on the EFT in October, and she’s given me her direct phone line to call if there’s a problem.

The not-so-good news is that UHC has screwed up this seemingly simple transaction at three separate times with three separate teams. It’s cost them far more in corrective labor than they’d ever be able to earn from my premiums. I’ve been required to enter 21st-century data on their IT systems, yet they’re still communicating with me via 19th-century paperwork.

Maybe the third fourth try will be the charm. I’ve added “UHC Tricare” on my blog’s October editorial calendar. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to this suspense!

Let me be clear that these complaints are not about Tricare. I’m quite satisfied with the quality of the medical care. I’m certainly happy that I’m paying such a low fee compared to civilian retiree healthcare costs. However, it’s frustrating to see Congress and SECDEF complain that military personnel expenses are out of control when there’s so much inefficiency in a simple turnover between contractors.

I hope that those of you who commented on the last Tricare post have been satisfied with UHC’s corrective action. If not, consider downloading the Tricare grievance form— and please let us know how it works out!

Related articles:
TRICARE Prime premiums and United Healthcare

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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