Tricare to Offer Free Physical Therapy For Back Pain in Some Locations

An airman lies on a table for a back treatment.
An airman lies on a table for a back treatment Nov. 21, 2017, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)

Beginning Jan. 1, Tricare beneficiaries in 10 states will have access to free physical therapy sessions for lower back pain.

Defense Health Agency officials announced Tuesday that effective next year, military family members and retirees and their families who use Tricare can get up to three physical therapy treatments for their pain.

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The pilot program, set for Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, will run through Dec. 31, 2023.

According to an analysis by the Defense Health Agency, military retirees are nearly 50% less likely than others to get physical therapy for lower-back pain. Retiree and their family members make copayments under Tricare for physical therapy sessions; the pilot is designed to determine whether these beneficiaries will use the benefit if it is offered at no cost.

Physical therapy is a proven treatment for lower-back problems and their accompanying pain, and is less invasive and costly than surgery or medications, which carry side effects and can affect quality of life during recovery and in the long-term.

According to a notice June 30 in the Federal Register, lower-back pain is often a temporary condition that can be resolved within six weeks with proper care and rest. Physical therapy has been shown to accelerate recovery without risk of complications or dangerous side effects of many pain medications.

The program will be available to beneficiaries who are experiencing new onset of back pain, by referral from a Tricare provider. To ensure that the visits are covered, beneficiaries must live in a state where the pilot is offered and must be seen by an authorized provider who practices in one of the covered states, according to DHA.

Beneficiaries already receiving physical therapy for lower-back pain at the start of the pilot are not eligible for the program, but patients who have previously been treated for such pain and experience a flare-up will be able to access the benefit.

The program will not cover physical therapy provided by a home health agency.

For more information, contact your Tricare provider or contractor. In the Tricare East Region, Humana Military can be reached at 1-800-444-5445; in the West, Health Net Federal Services is at 1-844-866-9378.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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