VA & Medicare Benefits – If you have VA coverage and are eligible for Medicare, you’re not required to enroll in Part B, but you may have good reasons to do so. The VA strongly recommends that all veterans also enroll in Medicare Parts A and B as soon as they become eligible.
The VA assigns enrollees to different priority levels according to various factors. Some of those factors included income and whether they have any medical condition that derives from their military service.
If federal funding drops or doesn’t keep pace with costs, some vets in the lower priority levels may lose VA coverage entirely.
Having both Medicare and VA benefits greatly widens your coverage. If you need to go a non-VA hospital or doctor, you’re automatically covered under Part A and/or Part B. With VA coverage alone, you’d very likely end up having to pay the full cost yourself.
- This is an important point to consider if you live some distance from the nearest VA facility.
Most people take Part A because it’s free for any US Citizen or legal resident who has worked for more than 10 years. Some people elect not to take Part B because you have to pay a monthly premium for it ($144.60 in 2020).
If someday, when you’re past 65, you happen to lose VA coverage or otherwise decide that you need Medicare and are not already signed up for Part B, you would likely have to wait a while for coverage and you’d be liable for late penalties that are permanently added to your Part B premiums.
Prescription Drugs (Part D)
VA prescription drug coverage is usually better and less expensive than Medicare Part D plans. You don’t need to join a Part D drug plan if you don’t want to. You will not have to pay any Part D late enrollment penalties if you lose VA coverage in the future. Make sure you know the rules and sign up with a drug plan within two months of that coverage ends.
Something to consider is that you will have the flexibility of using one or the other. This would allow you to get prescriptions from non-VA doctors and fill them at local retail pharmacies. Think about it, if something happens in an emergency, which is usually closer, a CVS or your VA Pharmacy? You can also apply for low-cost drug coverage also known as Extra Help.
The Medicare and VA systems are entirely separate, with no coordination of benefits between them. You would use your VA identity card at VA facilities and your Medicare ID card anywhere else.
For more information on the VA health care system, go to the VA website at https://www.va.gov/health/.