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Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are now closer than ever to being included as accepted providers under TRICARE, the payment system used throughout the US Department of Defense (DoD) health care system.

Last week, the Armed Services Committees for both the US House and Senate reached an agreement on a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that includes language proposed by APTA to add PTAs and occupational therapy assistants to the TRICARE program. The APTA-backed amendment was introduced by Sen Thom Tillis (R-NC) in July and was included in the Senate version of the bill that passed in September. The amendment can be found on page 379 of the NDAA.

The legislation will next advance to the House and Senate, where it is expected to pass in both chambers.

"This is great news for PTAs and patients in the TRICARE program," said Michael Hurlbut, APTA senior congressional affairs specialist. "We hope to see a bill ready for the president to sign sometime in December. Once signed into law, the changes will probably be issued through regulation, and we could see PTAs included in the TRICARE program as early as next year." APTA will work with the DoD as the process moves forward, he added.

That wasn't the only piece of good news in the NDAA. Legislators also included amendments to address opioid prescribing within the DoD health care system, including instructions for the Secretary of Defense to "[Develop] methods to encourage health care providers of the [DoD] to use physical therapy or alternative methods to treat acute or chronic pain."


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