Cantwell Urges Department of Defense to Make Critical Healthcare Fix for Coast Guard Families in Southwest Washington
Senator recently heard from Coast Guard families who are traveling hundreds of miles to receive healthcare
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) today sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Jonathan Woodson, urging him to designate Coast Guard units at Station Cape Disappointment, National Motor Lifeboat School, and Sector Columbia River as Tricare Prime Remote units – a designation that would significantly improve healthcare options for Coast Guard families in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon.
Tricare designation of these Coast Guard units was recently changed from Tricare Prime Remote to Tricare Prime because the Department of Defense now recognizes the Sector Columbia River Medical/Dental Clinic as a Military Treatment Facility. While Military Treatment Facilities are intended to deliver medical and dental care to all eligible individuals, Sector Columbia River Medical/Dental Clinic is unable to offer full services to families due to a lack of space, staff, and resources – leaving many families without access to local medical and dental care.
Cantwell recently met with Coast Guard families at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington where she heard directly from them about how the Tricare Prime designation – unlike Tricare Prime Remote – does not provide unique benefits needed for families serving in rural areas including incentives to get more private sector providers in the Tricare network.
“I heard from numerous families [in Southwest Washington] that nearly all of the primary care providers located near these…units are full and not accepting any additional patients,” wrote Senator Cantwell in her letter. “I urge you to reverse the Clinic’s designation so that the families stationed at the Sector, Station Cape Disappointment, the National Motor Lifeboat School, and other impacted units, will qualify for Tricare Prime Remote allowing their families to access health care where they live.”
Without Tricare Prime Remote coverage, families are being forced to travel hundreds of miles – sometimes 6 hours or more round trip – to access healthcare at Military Treatment Facilities with the capacity to serve their healthcare needs.
Additionally, Cantwell asked the Department of Defense to update the Joint Federal Travel Regulations to permit rounding up from 99.7 miles to 100 miles traveled to allow impacted families in this region to be reimbursed for travel costs if they are forced to commute to Portland for care.
Cantwell is a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard. Earlier this year, after pressure from Cantwell , the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, announced that the Coast Guard would expand maternity leave from six weeks to twelve weeks. Cantwell also secured an amendment to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2015 to expand the Combat Related Special Compensation program to cover more Coast Guard men and women. Combat related special compensation provides post service financial benefits for service members with disabilities from injuries sustained from certain activities during active duty service.
Full letter text below and here:
Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Jonathan Woodson
Department of Defense Health Agency
7700 Arlington Boulevard, Suite 5101
Falls Church, VA 22042
Dear Assistant Secretary Woodson,
I am concerned about access to health care for Coast Guard families stationed in remote locations in Washington state and Oregon. Last month, I had the opportunity to visit with the remarkable Coast Guard men, women, and families who are currently stationed at Station Cape Disappointment and the National Motor Lifeboat School in Ilwaco, Washington and Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Oregon. This remote area in the Pacific Northwest is sparsely populated, and the Coasties serving here are often tested by the rough sea conditions and the sheer volume of fishermen and other mariners operating at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Recently, Station Cape Disappointment, the National Motor Lifeboat School and Sector Columbia River were re-designated as Tricare Prime units, a change from their previous designation as Tricare Prime Remote units. This change occurred because the Department of Defense (DOD) now recognizes Sector Columbia River Medical/Dental Clinic as a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). I believe that the Sector Columbia River Clinic is incorrectly listed as a Military Treatment Facility, which is putting an inappropriate and disproportionate burden on the Coast Guard men and women stationed there
The purpose of a Military Treatment Facility is to deliver medical and dental care to all eligible individuals, including active duty, reservists, retirees, and dependents. This is simply not the case at the Sector Columbia River Medical/Dental Clinic—nor will it ever be. The Clinic’s 15 member staff offers basic preventative medical and dental services to nearly 800 active duty Coast Guard members in the immediate area. The Clinic does not offer any services for families because there simply is not enough space, staff, or the resources to cover those individuals.
Tricare Prime Remote coverage is critical for families stationed at Cape Disappointment, the National Motor Lifeboat School and Sector Columbia River. Tricare Prime Remote allows for families to utilize private care facilities outside of the Tricare network, an option not extended to personnel covered by Tricare Prime. Tricare Prime Remote also provides incentives to help increase the number of health care providers accepting Tricare patients, which is critical in remote areas like Southwest Washington state where there are few providers to begin with.
I heard from numerous families that nearly all of the primary care providers located near these two units are full and not accepting any additional patients. Families stationed in the area are often referred to other Military Treatment Facilities, located at Madigan Army Medical Center and Bremerton Naval Clinic, which are 137 miles and 154 miles away from away from Sector Columbia River. Due to the rural roads between these facilities and the Coast Guard stations on the coast, the drive time is 2 hours and 36 minutes and 3 hours and 22 minutes without traffic, each way, respectively. Many families simply do not have the time for a six hour round-trip drive to seek medical attention. Families are left to opt for private sector care in Portland, which is 99.7 miles away. However, families commuting to Portland for health care are not offered any sort of travel reimbursement. Based on the DOD’s Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR), families are only reimbursed when their medical facility is at least 100 miles away, which at 99.7 miles, Portland is just shy of. Therefore, families are paying the travel costs of commuting nearly 200 miles, round trip, for health care, in addition to any required co-pay. This places an undue financial and personal burden on Coast Guard personnel and their families who are already making sacrifices to serve their country.
I find it hard to believe that Coast Guard members serving in Portland, Oregon, a metropolitan area served by many hospitals, are covered by Tricare Prime Remote, while members serving at Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Washington, are not. Its small capacity, limited services, and inability to treat all eligible personnel and dependents prevents the Columbia River Clinic from meeting the definition of a Military Treatment Facility. I urge you to reverse the Clinic’s designation so that the families stationed at the Sector, Station Cape Disappointment, the National Motor Lifeboat School, and other impacted units, will qualify for Tricare Prime Remote allowing their families to access health care where they live. In addition, I urge you to update the JFTR to allow for rounding up from 99.7 miles traveled to 100 miles so that families that are forced to commute to Portland for care will be reimbursed for their travel costs.
The lack of Tricare providers in Southwest Washington is negatively impacting the quality of life of Coast Guard families living and serving there. I look forward to discussing solutions with you so we can better serve the men and women of the Coast Guard—and their families—who serve us so well.
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