By Kathie McCracken, Health Affairs program director for Patient Advocacy
Medical Ethics and Women’s Health Issues
Military Health System and TRICARE observe Women’s Health Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, recognizing every female beneficiary should understand the resources available to them and the easy access to quality care.
While women’s health, in general, has improved significantly in the last century, much more can be done. For example, the leading cause of death in women is still heart disease, cancer and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For some female active duty service members, depression is a major behavioral health issue, along with PTSD post-deployment.
We want women to take full advantage of the preventive screenings and tests covered by TRICARE to protect their health. These include services like mammograms, Pap smears, cholesterol screening, colorectal cancer screenings, testing for diabetes and blood pressure screenings. All of these are meant to keep women healthy or detect health problems in a timely manner.
To address these health conditions, TRICARE has numerous health programs focusing on disease prevention and health promotion. It is important women talk to their primary care managers about their individual medical history, and ask the right question to make the right decisions regarding screening and preventive care.
These beneficiaries should also keep in mind, there are limitations on the frequency of preventive care and coverage varies depending on whether they are using TRICARE Prime or Standard. Cost-shares and deductibles may also apply.
TRICARE’s behavioral health care services are available for beneficiaries and family members during times of stress, depression, grief and anxiety. TRICARE covers mental and behavioral health care that is medically or psychologically necessary. This includes substance abuse treatment, one-on-one counseling, group therapy and a variety of other services. Non-active duty TRICARE Prime beneficiaries do not need a referral or pre-authorization for their first eight visits per year to a TRICARE authorized mental health provider. Active duty service members must always seek nonemergency mental health care at a military treatment facility (MTF) when available or get a referral from their MTF or service point of contact before receiving civilian care.
TRICARE beneficiaries are entitled to an annual mammogram beginning at age 40 and at a doctor’s discretion for women younger than 40 who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Beneficiaries identified as being at high risk for breast cancer (due to family history, etc.) are covered for annual mammograms beginning at age 35. TRICARE also covers magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screenings for beneficiaries within the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for a high risk of breast cancer.
TRICARE covers colonoscopy screenings once every 10 years beginning at age 50 for beneficiaries at average risk for colon cancer. Every two years beginning at age 25 (or five years younger than the earliest age of diagnosis of colon cancer in a family member, whichever is earlier) and then annually after age 40 for individuals with hereditary colon or rectal cancer.
High Blood Pressure, Stroke
TRICARE covers cholesterol tests once every five years beginning at age 18.
Reproductive Organ Cancers
TRICARE covers pelvic examinations in conjunction with Pap smear testing when necessary or annually beginning at age 18 (or younger, if sexually active), until three consecutive normal Pap smears and then once every three years unless otherwise recommended by the physician.
Well-child Care (birth-6 yrs)
TRICARE’s Well-child Care includes routine newborn care for eligible newborns up to age 6; comprehensive health promotion and disease prevention exams; vision and hearing screenings; height, weight and head circumference; routine immunizations and developmental and behavioral appraisal in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.
During this month, we encourage female beneficiaries to talk to their doctors. Regular health exams and tests can help find problems early, when chances for treatment and cure are better.