Does TRICARE cover chiropractic care? If you have back problems or otherwise feel you need the attention of a chiropractor, this is an important question and the answer depends greatly on your status as someone seeking care.
What Is Considered Chiropractic Care?
The broad definition of the practice known as chiropractic is described by the official site of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) as “manual therapy, often including spinal manipulation.” A consultation with a chiropractor may also involve lifestyle advice including diet and exercise.
NCCIH describes the actual treatments you may receive from a chiropractor as, “manual treatment methods” such as “stretching and sustained pressure to specific joint manipulations” intended to improve function and relieve pain.
To function as a fully licensed and qualified chiropractor in the U.S., a specialized degree is required (the Doctor of Chiropractic or D.C. degree). There is also a requirement to pass the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam and be licensed in any state where the practice takes place.
What Conditions May Require Chiropractic Care?
What follows is NOT medical advice; it is a list of conditions that have been listed as being “treatable” using chiropractic techniques. Note that the word “cure” is not mentioned here, nor in the literature describing such conditions as treatable with the approaches a chiropractor may use. The following list should be considered for informational purposes only:
- General back pain
- Certain back injuries
- Certain injuries received in car accidents
- Arthritis or Osteoarthritis
- Muscle stiffness or pain
- Pinched nerves
- Sports injuries
Certain conditions may include accompanying inflammation, which some doctors advise should not be treated by a chiropractor.
The official site of Arthritis.org states, “…if you have an inflammatory disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, you are going to need to be more careful” when considering the course of treatment or when using a chiropractor at all. Patients who cannot get swelling under control should get the advice of their Primary Care Manager before seeking chiropractic treatment. You may be advised to seek a different type of care in such cases.
General TRICARE Policy On Chiropractic Coverage
In general, TRICARE does NOT cover chiropractic services under TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Select, TRICARE Prime Remote, etc. If you search through the TRICARE official site’s list of programs, you will not find chiropractic care listed under any of the above options.
There IS a TRICARE Special Program for military members known as the TRICARE Chiropractic Health Care Program, but this is not available to family members or retirees.
When TRICARE-Enrolled Family Members And Retirees Need Chiropractic Care
The TRICARE official site says that family members and retirees are welcome to explore non-chiropractic care that may address the same medical issues; any treatment covered under TRICARE may be open to you as an alternative to seeing a chiropractor.
Specifically, TRICARE.mil states that family members or retirees, “may be referred to non-chiropractic health care services in the Military Health System (e.g., physical therapy or orthopedics).”
Family members and retirees who choose to see a chiropractor will have to do so at their own expense or utilizing any coverage options that may be available from non-TRICARE health insurance where applicable. TRICARE will not cover any services for family or retirees in this area.
Alternatives For TRICARE Families And Retirees
Family members and retirees who need care with results that are adjacent to chiropractic care but still covered by TRICARE may be referred for physical therapy, orthopedics, etc.
There are also non-invasive options that may not be covered by TRICARE; when researching alternatives to chiropractic care, military family members and retirees may find the following approaches recommended:
- “Mindfulness-based” stress reduction techniques
While such alternatives are generally not covered by TRICARE, they may be less costly than chiropractic treatments. Patients may also benefit from lifestyle changes, physical fitness programs, and closer attention to diet and exercise choices.
VA Chiropractic Options For Veterans
Veterans and retirees won’t find any help from TRICARE for chiropractic services, but the Department of Veterans Affairs official site advises that seeing a chiropractor may be an option for anyone enrolled in the VA standard health benefits plan offered to all eligible veterans.
The VA official site has a growing list of locations that offer VA-covered chiropractic services, and when a veteran cannot get such care at the local VA facility, such care is offered via the VA Community Care program.
This is described at the VA official site as an option, “through community providers when VA cannot provide the care needed. Community care is based on specific eligibility requirements, availability of VA care, and the needs and circumstances of individual Veterans.”
Talk to a VA representative about your needs for such health care and how Community Care or related VA programs may help you get the treatment you need as a retired or separated military member.
Military Members And TRICARE-Covered Chiropractic Services
Any military member, including Guard or Reserve members who have been called to active service for more than 30 consecutive days may enroll in the TRICARE Chiropractic Health Care program, but with certain caveats.
The first of those caveats is that you must consult with your Primary Care Manager (PCM), who will decide whether or not you should be referred to a chiropractor. Your PCM may require screenings or other procedures to make sure your medical condition actually requires such care; you may also be screened to make sure you do not have a medical issue that would rule out seeing a chiropractor.
Under this program, the PCM is the deciding authority for both the authorization to use such services, but also the frequency and duration of those treatments.
Where Military Members May Receive TRICARE-Covered Chiropractic Services
Unlike some aspects of TRICARE, coverage for chiropractic services is only available from certain designated locations at military bases, military hospitals, and/or military clinics. You will need to consult with a TRICARE representative or search the TRICARE official site to see if the military treatment facilities in your area offer chiropractic services that can be paid for using TRICARE.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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