On Medicare

How to optimize Medicare for those who have served in the military

Whether active duty, retired military or veteran, there are important points of intersection and interaction between Medicare and military health coverages

Jun 7, 2016 @ 11:27 am

By Katy Votava

In honor of those who have served in the military, including active duty and veterans, I am focusing this column on Medicare and the military.

Whether active duty, retired military or veteran, there are important points of intersection and interaction between Medicare and military health coverages. Those points fall into three categories related to: active duty military; TRICARE for Life for retired military and their spouses; and veteran's health benefits for all those who have served.

While on active duty, most service personnel are covered by a variety of military health care options. As is the case in the civilian world, if a service person becomes Medicare eligible, they need to consider their Medicare options particularly as they relate to Medicare Part B. Military health coverage entitles the service person to delay Medicare Part B enrollment until a future date. They will be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) to enroll in Medicare Part B without penalty when they leave active duty medical coverage.

However, if your client is Medicare eligible and an active-duty service member or spouse of an active-duty service member:

• Before the active-duty health plan ends, they must enroll in Parts A and B to avoid a lack of coverage.

• They can get Part B during a Special Enrollment Period if they are Medicare eligible because they 65 or older, or are disabled.


Retired military who are under 65 years of age, and their families, are eligible for TRICARE health coverage. When a military retiree or spouse reaches 65, they are eligible for Medicare and TRICARE for Life medical coverage. TRICARE for Life is specifically for Medicare eligible military retirees.

Medicare pays first for Medicare-covered services. TRICARE for Life will pay the Medicare deductible and coinsurance amounts and any service TRICARE for Life covers that Medicare doesn't cover. The beneficiary pays the costs of services that neither Medicare nor TRICARE for Life cover.

TRICARE for Life beneficiaries must enroll in Medicare Parts A and B. They do not need to enroll Medicare Part D because TRICARE for Life provides Medicare Part D creditable coverage. If they do join a Medicare Part D plan, that plan pays first, and TRICARE for Life pays second. Given that TRICARE for Life functions as a Medicare supplement, a Medigap plan or Medicare Advantage is not needed. That said, a person can opt into a Medicare Advantage plan and TRICARE for Life will coordinate benefits with that plan.

In my experience, people seldom benefit from joining either a Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Part D plan in addition to TRICARE for Life. An added bonus of TRICARE for Life is that it includes coverage of international health care services.


Veteran's Administration (VA) health coverage is for veterans and those who served in the U.S. military. These benefits are available to most veterans whether retired military or not. Current and former members of the Reserves or National Guard who were called to active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which they were called may be eligible for VA health benefits as well.

The VA provides a wide range of health benefits based on a hierarchy of enrollment criteria. Veterans who meet certain criteria may receive a major portion of their health services through the VA. If that person needs care outside of the VA system they will need to pay for that themselves or have other coverage. A Medicare Advantage with a Part D plan can serve as a back-up coverage in these circumstances.

VA Prescription drug coverage can pay for a major portion of a person's prescriptions at a relatively low cost. This is a valuable benefit that is available to most Medicare eligible veterans. It is worth taking a look at because the cost savings to your client can be significant. Given that the VA does not cover all medications I recommend that the person join a Medicare drug plan as a backup. They cannot use both types of coverage for the same prescription at the same time.


If your client is:

• A veteran or has served in the U.S. military can contact Department of Veterans Affairs to get answers to their questions about VA benefits:

— Call 1-800-827-1000, TTY 1-800-829-4833, or visit VA.gov

• Retired military under 65 years and not eligible for Medicare can get in touch with TRICARE to determine which regional office covers them and find associated contact information.

• Medicare-eligible retired military who are either under or over 65 and can contact TRICARE for Life:

— Call 866-773-0404, or visit Tricare.mil.

Optimizing Medicare and military health benefits in retirement will save your clients significant money in year over year out-of-pocket expenses. That guidance can also help them increase their access to needed health services. The ultimate impact is that your clients' retirement nest egg goes further and allows them the retirement flexibility that you helped them plan for. It may even help them improve their health. That's a win win.

(Want to get more out of Medicare? Download my e-book at .)

Katy Votava, Ph.D., RN, is president of Goodcare.com, a consulting service that works with financial advisers and consumers on health care coverage.


What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Sponsored financial news

Upcoming Event

Mar 13



arjuna-design is honoring female financial advisers and industry executives who are distinguished leaders at their firms. These women have advanced the business of providing advice through their passion, creativity, inclusive approach and... Learn more

Integration can mean of different things to advisers. What does it mean to you? Marc Butler of Albridge Solutions explains how it is powering advisory practices.

Video Spotlight

Recommended Video


Latest news & opinion

Is ESG investing going mainstream?

Despite advisers' misgivings, asset managers are coming around to the idea that a company's stance on environmental, social and governance issues is a good proxy for future success.

Despite January's run-up in stocks, investors headed to bonds

More than $46 billion went to taxable bonds last month, versus $17 billion flowing into stock funds and ETFs.

Alternative funds suddenly look a whole lot better

The market sell-off highlights the virtues of hedging.

Olympics advice from financial advisers who are Olympians themselves

Meet some of the Olympians among U.S. financial advisers, and hear their words of wisdom for those vying for the gold in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Why the new tax law amounts to a 'stealth' tax increase

The government will use an inflation measure that causes things like marginal income tax rates to rise more slowly.


Hi! Glad you're here and we hope you like all the great work we do here at arjuna-design. But what we do is expensive and is funded in part by our sponsors. So won't you show our sponsors a little love by whitelisting arjuna-design.com? It'll help us continue to serve you.

Yes, show me how to whitelist arjuna-design.com

Ad blocker detected. Please whitelist us or give premium a try.


Subscribe and Save 60%

Last News

kolbe test free online social security death spouse benefits surviving spouse how much does fdic insure per account vanguard large cap value fund widowers benefit thornburg limited term municipal fund schwab small cap etf blackrock core bond can you draw social security off your ex husband widow collecting social security spousal benefits for social security john hancock small cap equity fund credit suisse managed futures strategy fund 1943 copper penny how much is it worth what does the term grandfathered mean what is medicare part b premium when can withdraw ira without penalty credit suisse managed futures strategy fund social security survivor benefits widow calculator american funds retirement plan sponsor login most valuable toys from the 2000s which wheat pennies are worth the most vanguard intermediate term tax exempt bond fund can i remarry my ex wife cashing out life insurance policy tax implications ssa employment history report morgan stanley 1585 broadway top valued baseball cards vanguard index fund admiral shares blackrock tools coupon code 1585 broadway ny ny transamerica insurance and investment group how to convert ira to roth 1099 r code t estimate social security calculator