For the past several years, the Pentagon has been hinting at providing access to chiropractic services in TRICARE, the military’s health delivery system for career retirees, dependents and survivors.
Currently, chiropractic services are only available to active-duty troops at select bases across the U.S. and overseas. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) has been working with Congress for several years to expand access to those who have TRICARE, nearly 10 million individuals. Congress has indicated support for expanding access to chiropractic services via legislation in recent years with the goal being to pressure the Department of Defense to develop a program to do so. However, to date, Pentagon brass has not listened to Congress, or the overwhelming desire from the TRICARE community, to expand access.
That could soon be changing. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive bill that authorizes Pentagon programs ranging from aircraft carriers to howitzers to health care. In report language accompanying the legislation, there were two provisions included — both championed by ACA — that address the need for further expansion of access to chiropractic services, both in the civilian and active-duty arenas.
The first provision dealing with the civilians who access TRICARE reads:
Chiropractic Care in the TRICARE Program
The committee (House Armed Services) is concerned that the Department of Defense has not included chiropractic care as part of the TRICARE health benefit for all beneficiaries, especially considering chiropractic care is popular among Active Duty service members for its holistic approach to medicine and pain relief that does not require the use of prescription drugs. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services by February 1, 2024, on the following regarding chiropractic care:
(1) an overview of the current chiropractic health care program benefit for service members;
(2) whether the chiropractic care program has resulted in improved health outcomes and satisfaction for service members using the current program;
(3) the anticipated cost of including chiropractic care for all beneficiaries as part of the TRICARE health benefit; and
(4) the estimated time it would take to implement chiropractic care as part of the TRICARE health benefit.
The second provision, aimed at increasing access to chiropractic services for active-duty members, reads:
Potential Benefits of Increasing Availability of Chiropractic Care for Servicemembers
The committee directs the Director of the Defense Health Agency to provide a report to the House Committee on Armed Services by March 31, 2024, on the value of chiropractic preventative care in decreasing musculoskeletal injuries and early separation among servicemembers. The report should include the following information:
(1) the current availability of chiropractic preventative care through TRICARE services;
(2) the proportion of servicemembers receiving care for musculoskeletal injuries that could benefit from chiropractic care if it were available on their respective installation; and
(3) the potential benefit on-site chiropractic care for preventative treatment would bring to service members and medical options available to them.
We at ACA believe both of these directives will help expedite action from the DoD and lead to a proposed rule sooner than the February date listed above, and above all hold the Pentagon accountable for any lack of action. Be assured, ACA will also be keeping a close eye on the Pentagon here and work with House and Senate leadership to ensure these directives are indeed carried out.
John Falardeau is senior vice president of public policy and advocacy at the American Chiropractic Association.