I loved our doctors at the Navy hospital in California. I trusted them, we communicated well, and they were such a comfort to us when we lost our baby girl. I had their personal office and voicemail numbers, and their secretaries’ direct phone numbers to call and make appointments. And that, my military friends, is the secret to good and timely medical care in the great system that is Tricare. (And by “great,” I just mean “large.”) If you don’t develop a personal relationship with a doctor, you will be stuck in the cattle call that is the “general appointments” line, just waiting in the corral like a sow branded with her sponsor’s last 4.
So when we moved here to Virginia, I procrastinated finding new doctors, brooding over the loss of our old doctors like a sad break-up. I heard from other moms that I would have to select civilian providers, because the MTFs (military treatment facilities) had no availability. I haven’t been to a civilian doctor since I was married, and the idea of co-pays and billing and commercial pharmacies was a little daunting to me. But a neighbor recommended a pediatrician nearby, who happened to be on the Tricare provider directory.
So I finally took a whole day to go to the ONE Tricare Service Center listed for the entire Hampton Roads mega-military region, to talk to the ONE lady at the front counter who would actually speak to customers. Publicly, of course, while everyone in line behind you couldn’t help but listen, hoping you’ll hurry up and finish. (There was an entire hallway of offices behind her for staff who apparently do NOT deal directly with real people. One lady walked from office to office informing everyone that they were out of Tricare customer handbooks and there were none available to order any time soon. I clutched my handbook a little tighter.)
Counter Lady told me that it’s true, there were no MTFs available, and that the primary care managers I selected were indeed available. Stamped my forms, entered stuff in the computer, said my new cards would arrive soon and to go ahead and make my appointments. Oh, and I could’ve sent forms in through the mail. Gee, thanks. I am sure your mail gets even timelier attention than live people in the waiting room. I immediately made the appointments, as my one-year-old is overdue for her 6 month vaccinations, and both need their school health forms filled out.
Today, one month later, I show up at the first appointment only to be told that Tricare has some other doctor listed as my kids’ PCM. A name I’d never heard of. So we couldn’t be seen. FURY welled up inside me--and trust me, I don’t get all the way to FURY very often. Unfortunately, my physical reaction to fury is that my throat tightens and tears spill over. Stupid XX chromosomes. There was no one to yell at anyway--it wasn’t the receptionist’s fault that Tricare is so capricious.
So I drove home and called Tricare, and was really bi***y to the guy who fielded my call after the 7 levels of hell known as “automated assistance.” He was very patient, to his credit. He explained to me that I lived in the vicinity of a Tricare Prime Outpatient Clinic, or something like that, which is a MTF, and so my children and I had all been assigned there. How that was left out of the discussion with Counter Lady, I don’t know. But we have no choice. Ah, perhaps the Counter Lady merely sought to please and appease me with the ILLUSION of choice. Anyway, next I had to call the “general appointments” line for the Tricare clinic, and it was hard to resist mooing at the impersonal and curt appointment lady who took my call. She sounded like she graduated from the Fast-Food-Drive-Through College of Customer Service.
So now we have new appointments--a month from now, naturally. And you can imagine how high my expectations are for a whole clinic managed by Tricare.