Military gets new health choice

By SHARON SALYER

Herald Writer

Up to 9,000 military families and retirees in Snohomish and Island counties have an added health care option with a newly expanded network of local health care providers.

Three briefings are planned this weekend in Everett to explain it. Three more will be held in January.

The fourth option added to the traditional Tricare military health system offers expanded services in Snohomish County, including use of Providence Everett Medical Center, the specialists of Western Washington Medical Group and prescription drugs through Bartell Drugs in downtown Everett.

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The health plan is available to military families and retirees throughout Snohomish County, with the exception of the Darrington area, on Whidbey Island from Coupeville south, and all of Camano Island, said Tita Montero, vice president of Federal Affairs for PacMed Clinics, which administers the plan.

Service areas are limited by Defense Department regulations.

This fourth option in military health care is available in only seven areas in the nation, she said, "and it is the only military health care option that is available regardless of age."

Under the military’s traditional Tricare system, when someone turns 65, "they’re bounced out to Medicare," Montero said.

With the fourth option, called the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan, "they can continue with the same doctor and the same set of benefits," she said.

The cost is $230 a year for one military retiree, or $460 for a retiree and spouse. There’s no enrollment charge for active duty military family members.

Plan members who need to see primary care doctors will have to go to the PacMed Lynnwood clinic. But hospital and specialty care under this plan previously was predominantly Seattle-based.

"We’re contracting with specialists in Snohomish County and the hospital in Everett so that enrollees can have the option to get their specialty and hospitalization closer to home," Montero said.

With many seniors losing their Medicare HMOs at the end of this year, "this is a terrific option for those people who have to replace that," she said.

There is a co-payment of $12 per visit to see a doctor and a minimum hospital charge of $25, or $11 a day for three days or more.

Substantial discounts are given for mail-order prescriptions, but medications also can be purchased at the Lynnwood or downtown Everett Bartell Drugs.

About 2,000 retired military personnel or active duty military family members currently get their health care through this plan in Snohomish County, Montero said.

PacMed will consider adding more primary care physicians in Snohomish County to its network next year, she added.

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