Today, President Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018 (NDAA). Included in this bill was an important provision to designate occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) as providers under the Civilian Health and Medical Program for the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS), or Tricare. Tricare is the major health care program for service members, their families, and certain military retirees.
In May, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) confirmed that Tricare, at that time, would not cover services provided by OTAs, as OTAs were not authorized providers under the program. The same discrimination was applied to PTAs.
Tricare's failure to recognize OTAs as providers threatened access to necessary occupational therapy services and created confusion in non-military medical settings, particularly those that provide services to a small number of Tricare beneficiaries. Fixing this policy has been one of AOTA's legislative priorities for 2017.
The NDAA authorizes the existence of the U.S. military and related programs, including Tricare. Authorization bills for the national defense must be passed every year, which provided the opportunity for AOTA to advocate for a fix to the omission of OTAs and PTAs. The House of Representatives included language in their version of the bill, which directed the Department of Defense to figure out how to include OTAs and PTAs within the Tricare system. This language was added to the House bill by an amendment offered by Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). The Senate-passed version of the bill included language added by Rep. Thom Tillis (R-NC), directing Tricare to include OTAs and PTAs as providers under Tricare.
This more favorable Senate language was ultimately included in the final version of the NDAA. Now that the bill has been signed into law, the DOD will be required to update its policy manuals and regulatory guidance to include OTAs and PTAs as Tricare providers.
AOTA is extremely pleased that Tricare will now include OTAs as a valued part of the health care team. This legislative victory was the result of a collaborative advocacy effort, and recognition by Congress that Tricare beneficiaries need full access to crucial therapy services.