Tricare to Offer Free Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain

Jim Absher

Tricare users with lower back problems may soon be able to get free physical therapy to help ease their pain -- if they live in certain states.

Officials with the healthcare program for military families and retirees announced they will begin a pilot program in January 2021 that allows members to receive up to three free physical therapy treatments for lower back pain. The program is scheduled to run for two years and will be available in ten states.

The states where the pilot program will occur are: Arizona; California; Colorado; Florida; Georgia; Kentucky; North Carolina; Ohio; Tennessee; and Virginia. These states were chosen for their large military retiree populations.

An analysis of Tricare claims conducted by the Defense Health Service showed that retirees were nearly 50% less likely than others to receive physical therapy treatments for lower back pain. One factor that may contribute to this is the fact that retirees have a higher copay or out-of-pocket cost than other groups of Tricare beneficiaries.

The pilot program looks to determine if more retirees utilize physical therapy for their lower back pain as a result of being able to access the treatments for free, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.

Many conventional medical treatments for lower back pain such as drugs or surgery either have dangerous side-effects, or are cost-prohibitive. Physical therapy has shown promise in eliminating the pain more rapidly than conventional methods, and is cheaper in the long run while having less side effects.

Conventional medical treatments for lower back pain focus on medication or surgery. However, the drugs used are quite often highly addictive painkillers that stop the pain, but don't cure the problem. Surgery, while usually a last-ditch effort to fix a serious underlying problem, can be dangerous and is also quite expensive.

Medical science, and those that suffer from lower back pain, have long known that most lower back pain is a temporary condition that can be resolved within six weeks given the proper care and rest. Most conventional treatment methods involve expensive procedures such as CAT scans, MRIs or X-Rays.

Physical therapy, therefore has the promise of being a lower cost treatment that has less danger of side effects, chance of complications, and is cheaper than conventional treatment methods, according to the report.

Rapidly receiving physical therapy for lower back pain treatment can also result in faster return to normal life and less lost wages as a result of being unable to participate in daily activities while suffering from lower back pain conditions.

The program will only be available to those who are referred by a Tricare authorized provider to a participating therapist after the 2021 start date. Only those who have a new episode of lower back pain will be able to participate in the program. If you are currently receiving physical therapy for a lower back pain condition, you aren't eligible. However, if you had a lower back pain incident in the past and are diagnosed with a new episode, you are eligible if you are in one of the participating states.

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