Tricare Moves Toward Chiropractic Coverage

Spring Aragon, a chiropractor at Branch Health Clinic Bangor, examines a patient’s neck during a consultation in March 2015. Chiropractic care emphasizes the recuperative power of the body to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zulema Sotelo)
Spring Aragon, a chiropractor at Branch Health Clinic Bangor, examines a patient’s neck during a consultation in March 2015. Chiropractic care emphasizes the recuperative power of the body to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zulema Sotelo)

Chiropractic and acupuncture services could be covered by Tricare under a new policy set to be proposed in the next several months.

Currently, Tricare does not cover any chiropractic or acupuncture services for military family members.

The proposal will be issued in an official regulation change notice no later than early next year, according to a document distributed to military support organizations this week and obtained by Military.com.

Following a mandatory public comment period, the proposal will be returned to the Defense Health Agency (DHA), where a final policy will be developed. Coverage would likely not be available to Tricare users until 2021 or early 2022, the document states.

Related: Chiropractic Care Works for Troops with Lower Back Pain, But Not Everyone Can Access It

Currently, chiropractic care is offered only to active-duty troops and activated Guard and Reserve members at 65 of the Defense Department's 54 military hospitals and 377 clinics. While Congress in 2000 ordered the DoD to provide the service to those users, it did not address coverage for military family members or retirees. Acupuncture is now offered on a limited basis through some military treatment facilities.

Just what will be covered under the new Tricare policy remains a mystery. To be covered, the services "must be proven safe and effective," according to the document, and could include "chiropractic care for certain types of pain or acupuncture for oncologic-related nausea."

Tricare officials did not respond by deadline to requests for comment.

It is estimated that adding the coverage will cost Tricare $60 to $70 million annually, the document states. Reimbursement rates for providers will be included in the proposed regulation, which will be published in the Federal Register, the government's official process for documenting upcoming rule changes.

The proposal comes on the heels of a new Defense Department report mandated by Congress that shows chiropractic care reduces lower back pain and may increase fitness among troops. The report was submitted to Capitol Hill this month, almost 10 years after it was first ordered.

What Tricare covers is set either by regulation developed by military health officials, such as the one being proposed, or by laws passed by Congress. Two separate laws proposed this year on Capitol Hill would order Tricare to add chiropractic coverage for certain groups, but neither has received the momentum needed to pass.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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