By Anita Doberman: CNJ Columnist
I wish that I had something good to say about my experience with Tricare and military medicine, but today I don’t.
While I am fully aware that there are plenty of excellent physicians and medical professionals who do a great job taking care of their patients, I feel disappointed and frustrated with a system that sometimes doesn’t take care of its customers.
I know you are going to send me lots of e-mails (some angry) telling me how fortunate I am to be part of such a great system when so many people don’t have health insurance. And that is true. But I have also witnessed bureaucracy at its worst, and a system that is sometimes difficult for dependents to navigate.
Example 1: When we adopted our son from overseas, I called to ask about standard blood tests and a physical examination, recommended by our adoption specialist. The nurse at our local military clinic told me that I could only bring him in if he were sick, otherwise I had to wait for a well baby check. Really? A well baby check when this child has just arrived from an African orphanage? Turned out he had lots of health issues that needed immediate attention, which he received when I took him to a civilian pediatrician.
Example 2: When I was pregnant with my last baby I was told that I wouldn’t be able to see a doctor or a nurse before week 12 of my pregnancy despite the fact that I had numerous mis-carriages, low progesterone, needed shots during the first part of my pregnancy, and had thyroid disease. I fought this one, but the doctor told me that they still wouldn’t see me before week 12 — their policy, nothing they could do about it. OK so maybe a miscarriage isn’t high on their priority list. Again, I contacted an ob/gyn in town who monitored me closely.
Example 3: My husband has been ill for a few weeks and we have encountered the bureaucratic Tricare monster at its worst. Instead of being released from the hospital with home care (a nurse comes to our house to administer IV medicine) as ordered by his physicians, it took two days for the civilian hospital to get an approval pushed through Tricare. The solution? My husband was told he had to stay in the hospital, costing Tricare far more than if it had approved care at home.
I know it’s not all as bad as it was in these specific instances. Military medical professionals are stretched thin and working hard, usually with good results and Tricare does come through most of the times.
But my point, and I do have one besides my ranting, is that military medicine, and Tricare especially, can be too rigid. Its strength is that we have access to health care, but the downside is a lot of bureaucracy and lack of flexibility. Sometimes I feel as if I am dealing with the paperwork machine of civilian medicine, which is a shame.