Current and retired members of the U.S. military will get easier access to healthcare at urgent care centers under a new medical policy.
Just before Thanksgiving, President Obama signed off on modifications to the 2016 Defense Authorization Act, while lawmakers continue to work toward sweeping reform of the system next year. Tricare, the military’s health care program, covers almost 9.5 million people worldwide.
Investigations of the Veterans Affairs health care system from the past year show patients waiting months to be seen by providers. In August, more than 8,000 requests for care had wait times longer than 90 days at the Phoenix VA, according to a CNN report. Nationwide there were almost 500,000 VA appointments with extended wait times, in most cases meaning delays longer than 30 days.
One new provision just signed into the law requires the Department of Defense to develop a three-year pilot program letting Tricare beneficiaries go to an urgent care clinic up to four times a year without having to get a referral from their primary care physician or network, according to the Military Times.
Those seeking care would need to call the Tricare nurse advice line for guidance on “the most appropriate level” of care—such as, whether they should go to an emergency department, an urgent care clinic, or wait for regular doctor’s hours.
Current Tricare coverage requires patients to see their primary care manager for all urgent care. Beneficiaries must also get a referral for any urgent care visits, even when traveling.
Read more on the changes in the military health benefits policy here.