Tricare Expands Outpatient Mental Health Help

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. (Army Photo)

Tricare users with substance abuse and mental health issues soon will have better access to outpatient assistance, thanks to a program change announced this week.

A late 2016 regulation change vastly expanded mental health care for Tricare users and removed a variety of coverage limits. But until the policy was updated, Tricare's regional contractors could not establish a network of providers for newly covered services.

The revised policy gives them the go-ahead to authorize those providers -- and will give beneficiaries in-network access to intensive outpatient and opioid treatment programs.

"Now that the approved participation agreements and specific requirements for intensive outpatient (IOP) and opioid treatment program (OTP) participation in Tricare have been published, our contractors are building their network of IOP and OTP providers," Peter Graves, a Tricare spokesman, said in a statement.

Tricare's regional contracts require those providers be available by July 13, Graves said. Other 2016 changes have been covered since the final rule was published, because implementing them did not require that the contractors establish new in-network providers.

The coverage additions come as Tricare prepares to move to a new two-region system this summer, shifting its makeup from "Tricare West," Tricare North" and "Tricare South" to a consolidated "Tricare East" and "Tricare West" system.

The newly organized Tricare East region will be managed by Humana, while Tricare West will be managed by Health Net. The contracts are worth $40.5 billion for the East, and $17.7 billion for the West, officials said last year, and are scheduled to start Jan. 1, 2018.

About 9.2 million military family members and retirees are enrolled in Tricare. Specific health care coverage under Tricare is set by law and federal policy, and does not depend on which contractor is administering the system.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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