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US military’s Tricare could soon cover chiropractic and acupuncture

Charlene Staystork, 2nd Medical Group chiropractic technician, prepares Lt. Col. Matt Gorleau, Air Force Global Strike Command, for electro-muscle stimulation treatment on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Feb. 25. The chiropractic section of the 2 MDG provides physical therapy for a variety of injuries such as pinched nerves, bulging disks and pain related to the nervous system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua)
September 28, 2019

Officials for the Defense Health Agency (DHA) are set to unveil new coverage terms for Tricare in the coming months that could include chiropractic and acupuncture.

A proposal for Tricare’s new coverage terms is expected within the early part of 2020, according to Military.com. Tricare, the healthcare coverage that extends to members of the U.S. military, retirees and dependent family members has covered active-duty troops and activated Guard and Reserve members at 65 of the Defense Department’s 54 military hospitals and 377 clinics, but has not extended to family members.

The DHA offered a comment period for the coverage proposals, and it is still not yet clear what the impending proposal might present. Accordingly, the coverage may limit new treatment to “chiropractic care for certain types of pain or acupuncture for oncologic-related nausea.”

The changes also “must be proven safe and effective,” according to Military.com.

Chiropractic care has been deemed by a Defense Department assessment to mitigate lower back pain and subsequently improve fitness among U.S. service members, according to prior Military.com reports.

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The report did not that chiropractic care could improve “key fitness characteristics among active-duty service members with lower back pain and could lead to improved military readiness.”

Part of the assessment concluded that a test group with chiropractic saw a 14 percent increase in endurance, while a control group without the same care saw a 10 percent decrease in endurance.

A secondary trial to assess the effects of chiropractic care on the responsiveness on U.S. special operations troops did also find an initial improvement in motor responsiveness; however, a third assessment found that those effects weren’t long-lasting.

The assessments also attempted to measure how well chiropractic could help U.S. service members quit smoking, bit did not see a significant lasting effect for those attempting to drop their smoking habit.

The additional coverage would likely cost Tricare an additional $60 to $70 million annually. The new coverage terms will reportedly include reimbursement rates for Tricare providers. The changes will be published through the Federal Register, which documents upcoming government rule changes.

The potential roll-out would likely not come into effect until 2021 or even early 2022.

Lawmakers on two previous occasions this year attempted to pass laws to add chiropractic and acupuncture to Tricare coverage, but those measures reportedly failed to garner sufficient support, Military.com reported.

The latest effort to expand Tricare coverage follows a move last year to add vision plans for family members of active duty service members.