Triwest closes as con­tract ends

Unit­edhealth to han­dle mil­i­tary health ben­e­fits in West

The Arizona Republic - - BUSINESS - By Ken All­tucker

TriWest Health­care Al­liance em­ploy­ees are pro­cess­ing their last med­i­cal billing codes and their fi­nal pay­ments on be­half of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies.

Phoenix-based TriWest Health­care Al­liance will shut down op­er­a­tions at the close of busi­ness to­day as Unit­edHealth Group takes over the lu­cra­tive mil­i­tary health-ben­e­fits con­tract for the West­ern United States. TriWest rep­re­sen­ta­tives es­ti­mate 1,200 to 1,300 po­si­tions will be elim­i­nated be­cause the com­pany’s en­tire busi­ness is tied to the De­part­ment of De­fense Tri­care con­tract.

On Mon­day, Unit­edHealth­care Mil­i­tary and Veter­ans will be­gin a $20.5 bil­lion con­tract to man­age health ben­e­fits for mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their fam- ilies in 20 West re­gion states and part of Texas.

Although Unit­edHealth­care Mil­i­tary and Veter­ans is based in Min­netonka, Minn., the com­pany will main­tain a large of­fice in Phoenix to ser­vice the mil­i­tary-ben­e­fits busi­ness. The com­pany now em­ploys 660 in Phoenix and plans to in­crease its staffing to 750 by mid-April, said Bruce Ja­surda, vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Unit­edHealth­care Mil­i­tary and Veter­ans.

Ja­surda said Unit­edHealth­care has hired a sub­stan­tial num­ber of TriWest work­ers, but he said he was not im­me­di­ately able to pro­vide an ex­act fig­ure.

TriWest has held the con­tract since 1996; it won an ex­ten­sion in 2009. The con­tract was re­bid af­ter Unit­edHealth­care chal­lenged the award to TriWest, and the De­part­ment of De­fense se­lected Unit­edHealth­care for the six-year con­tract that be­gins Mon­day.

Scott Cel­ley, TriWest’s vice pres­i­dent of ex­ter­nal re­la­tions, said the com­pany has con­tin­ued to ser­vice the con­tract while shar­ing in­for­ma­tion with Unit­edHealth­care to ease the tran­si­tion. Cel­ley said TriWest lead­ers are ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of con­tin­u­ing the busi­ness and sub­mit­ting bids for new ben­e­fits-re­lated con­tracts, but no firm plans have been an­nounced about the com­pany’s fu­ture.

The Tri­care con­tract serves nearly 3 mil­lion mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and re­tirees, and veter­ans groups said they will mon­i­tor the con­tract switch closely to en­sure things run smoothly.

“Ev­ery tran­si­tion brings is­sues,” said Joyce Wes­sel Raezer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Mil­i­tary Fam­ily As­so­ci­a­tion, an Alexan­dria, Va-based non-profit ser­vic­ing mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. “There is al­ways go­ing to be some dis­rup­tion.”

Parts of the switch are al­ready un­der way. In Fe­bru­ary, Unit­edHealth­care as­sumed con­trol of more than 80 Tri­care ser­vice cen­ters lo­cated mainly at mil­i­tary and Na­tional Guard bases across the West. Mil­i­tary mem­bers can ac­cess th­ese cen- ters for health in­for­ma­tion, ser­vices and other ben­e­fits-re­lated deal­ings.

Ja­surda said the two com­pa­nies also have jointly man­aged en­roll­ment ser­vices for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies re­cently.

Still, there could be some rip­ples for a num­ber of peo­ple. About 8,000 peo­ple may need to switch doc­tors or other health providers be­cause their providers will not be part of Unit­edHealth­care’s net­work. About 1,000 of those mil­i­tary mem­bers will be as­signed to mil­i­tary health-care fa­cil­i­ties, Ja­surda said.

Raezer said that the Tri­care mil­i­tary health pro­gram has made im­prove­ments to en­sure ser­vice is not dis­rupted. For ex­am­ple, women who are preg­nant are al­lowed to stay with their ex­ist­ing doc­tor through the term of the preg­nancy.

An­other sen­si­tive area in- cludes fam­i­lies and chil­dren with spe­cial needs such as autism. Th­ese fam­i­lies typ­i­cally have a case man­ager as­signed to han­dle the com­plex health needs, but Ja­surda said there will be a “per­son-to-per­son hand off” for th­ese cases.

Raezer said that many mil­i­tary fam­ily mem­bers didn’t ex­pect the De­fense De­part­ment to switch con­trac­tors, and she said mil­i­tary fam­i­lies will ex­pect Unit­edHealth­care to pro­vide ser­vice com­pa­ra­ble to TriWest’s.

“I haven’t re­ceived com­plaints from ben­e­fi­cia­ries in the West re­gion for a long time,” Raezer said. “One of the things you learn in the mil­i­tary, you salute smartly and move on.”

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