Recently, when a military spouse at our Association told me she had to take her baby to the emergency room when there were no appointments at their Military Treatment Facility (MTF), I thought my head was going to explode.
I flashed back to one of many similar situations I faced when we were on TRICARE Prime, and my daughter, Kate, was in her ‘ear infection phase.’ On one memorable occasion, Kate started a fever on a Friday night (of course, after the MTF was closed for the weekend). By Saturday, the telltale ear tugging and crankiness were in full swing. I kept my fingers crossed that we could keep things under control with Motrin and Tylenol until the clinic reopened on Monday. Unfortunately, by Sunday she had a 104 degree fever, obvious signs of a ruptured ear drum (I’ll spare you the details), and was crying inconsolably.
I knew we couldn’t wait until Monday for an MTF appointment, so with a newborn crying to be fed and a 20 month old wailing in pain, I braced myself for an uphill battle to find medical care that TRICARE would cover.
I consulted the TRICARE website where it seemed like our only option was the emergency room. This concerned me; did a ruptured ear drum constitute a threat to life, limb, or eyesight? I was terrified of having to foot the bill for an ER visit.
Not willing to risk it, I called TRICARE. They told me to take Kate to a network urgent care and call our primary care manager (PCM) on Monday to request a referral.
I think you know where this story is going…
On Monday, I called our PCM, who refused to give me a referral because the appointment had already taken place. When I called TRICARE back, their hands were tied. Without a referral, they could not pay the urgent care provider. We were at an impasse, and eventually paid out of pocket for that visit.
The reason this particular incident is burned into my memory is because it occurred while I was recovering from a c-section, and we were about a week away from PCSing. My husband’s new unit had orders to Iraq, but the departure date kept moving, causing second and third order effects… most notably on our temporary housing plans. Oh, and we had just learned (from CNN – surprise!) that Army deployments were being extended to 15 months.
Military families lead complicated lives full of uncertainty. Getting a sick child appropriate medical attention should NOT be complicated.
The National Military Family Association has advocated for years to fix this problem.
And, in fairness, things have improved.
At certain locations.
For instance, our old MTF in Virginia, the Woodbridge Clinic, is gone now. It’s replaced with the Dumfries Clinic, which has improved appointment access by adding Saturday hours.
Yet, we still hear of too many instances where families can’t get same-day appointments at the MTF, are refused referrals to urgent care, and are left with no option but the emergency room for their sick kids.
This is just wrong.
As the health care subject matter expert for our Association, this issue is not only my job, it’s personal. Now is the time to fix this problem once and for all. Military families deserve access to the best care, including same-day appointments for urgent issues.
Please help us by signing our petition and sharing your experience with access to same day appointments in the comments below.