How Does Medicare Work with Veterans Benefits?

American military veteran with Medicare

VA healthcare benefits are offered to active and inactive military members, as well as their families and dependents. When it’s time to enroll in Medicare, beneficiaries have a few ways to supplement their coverage from the VA.

Do Veterans Need to Enroll in Medicare?

Even though veterans have good benefits through the VA healthcare system, we always recommend veterans still enroll in Medicare. (The Office of Veterans Affairs also encourages Medicare enrollment!) At the minimum, a veteran who has any kind of veterans benefits should enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B.

The reason you should still enroll in Medicare is so that you have a wider range of healthcare options. There may be times when getting to a veteran’s facility is too difficult, or the wait is too long. Your doctor may want you to see a specialist outside of the VA’s network. Unless you have Medicare, you’ll be paying for those costs completely out-of-pocket.

Not enrolling in Medicare can cause other problems, too. Medicare charges late-enrollment penalties to those who go without coverage past the age of 65. The only way to avoid this is to have other creditable coverage in place. Unfortunately, the medical portion of VA healthcare is not creditable for Medicare. So, if you decide you want to enroll later in life, you could be paying hefty penalties for Part B. (Most people receive Part A for no premium and therefore can’t be penalized.)

The Part B premium amounts to an extra 10% for the number of 12-month periods you did not have Part B. If you went three full years without Part B, your penalty is 30% of the current standard premium. The worst part is you pay that penalty every month for the rest of your life.

If you have veteran’s benefits, you will not need any prescription coverage through Medicare, whether that is a stand-alone Part D plan or if you have prescription coverage within a Medicare Advantage plan. In almost all cases, the coverage you have for medications through the VA is superior to what is offered by Medicare. If you do need to enroll in Part D down the road, your prescription coverage through the VA is creditable, and you will not pay any late-enrollment penalties.

Senior couple Veteran on Medicare
If you choose to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C), you usually want to avoid plans that have prescription drug coverage included.

Medicare and VA Healthcare

It’s easy to understand how Medicare and VA healthcare work together: they don’t! This is why it’s so important to have Medicare if you are enrolled in VA healthcare. Medicare will not pay for any services received at a VA facility, and VA healthcare won’t cover services received outside their facilities (in most cases).

If you have VA benefits, you should consider enrolling in both Medicare and other supplemental coverage. This could include either a Medicare Supplement plan or a Medicare Advantage plan. If you choose to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C), you usually want to avoid plans that have prescription drug coverage included.

Medicare and TRICARE for Life

Veterans and families who have TRICARE for Life often won’t need to add anything except Original Medicare. There is no need to add a Medicare Supplement plan because all costs are taken care of by Medicare and TFL. (Medicare is primary and TFL is secondary.)

In addition, they’ll be able to see providers within the VA system as well as providers outside it. Beneficiaries might consider enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan to enjoy a few extra benefits, but they should talk with their advisor to understand how that would impact their coverage before doing so.

Carolina Senior Benefits is proud to offer help and support to our veterans. To learn more about your benefits and find out how Medicare will benefit you, call our office and speak to an advisor.