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I’m a Veteran; Do I need Medicare and Medicare Supplement Insurance?
I proudly served our country as an aviation electronics technician in the Navy from 2000 to 2005. Because I am a Veteran and I do use my VA benefits, other Veterans feel comfortable talking to me. They use me as a resource when inquiring about differences and asking why they should pick up a supplement.
I get asked every day:
“Do I need Medicare Supplement Insurance if I have VA benefits?”
The short answer is: maybe.
It really depends on your situation and preferences.
Of the 21.5 million veterans (2011 Census) in the United States, about 9.2 million are over the age of 65. Many, if not most, of those veterans, are qualified for Medicare. Many may not be optimizing their opportunity to get the most out of their Medicare benefits.
Keep in mind, Medicare and VA health benefits are different types of coverage. You can have both at the same time, but you cannot use both at the same time. I use my local VA for some of my regular health checkups and my prescriptions. However, I still have other health insurance for the day to day stuff.
VA Health Benefits
VA health benefits are generally available if you served in the active military service. It also applies if you separated under any condition other than dishonorable. 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 or ordered to active duty may be eligible for VA health benefits as well.
If you are a veteran and wonder if you qualify for VA health benefits- check here or use the VA Health Benefits Explorer. There are different levels of coverage with the VA, check your priority group and understand how much you can utilize your benefits.
Medicare Health Coverage and VA Health Benefits
When it comes to Medicare and VA health benefits, there are some important differences to note. These are the reasons why I generally recommend that veterans consider Medicare with a Medicare supplement:
- Time: As much as I love the VA, every time I go to the clinic I realize that the military is a “Hurry up and Wait” world. The urgency that I have seen in most of the VA clinics and hospitals is not there. I went the other day to draw blood for my annual physical. I walked in and drew a number from a little kiosk. After 15 minutes, I was then called and they asked me why I was there and took my information. They gave me all of the labels for the blood draw, then asked me to sit down and wait. I waited for another hour and 15 minutes until they called me to draw my blood. I walked into a little room and sat down and waited for my name to be called again! They called about 5 minutes later and then the blood draw was quick and efficient. I was there for an hour and 45 minutes!
- Doctors Network: The doctor’s network with Medicare is expansive. You can go to any doctor that takes Medicare, which is many of the doctors and hospitals in the 50 states. Under Medicare, if you don’t like the doctor you have, you can pick up the phone and make an appointment with another doctor, just as long as they take Medicare. However, with the VA network of doctors, you have a limit to the VA doctors and hospitals that are nearest you. You can apply to see someone outside of the VA network, but if there is a doctor that is in the network they can deny or delay your request. One of my clients with VA benefits told me a story of the time he had a heart attack. Because he only had VA health benefits and lived a 30-minute drive outside of a major city, and an hour and a half away from the nearest VA hospital, he was driven to the closest county hospital (about 30 minutes from his home). He was “stabilized” within a few hours of being at the county hospital and within that same day was transported via ambulance to the VA hospital (about an hour drive away) to be further treated. He felt terrified that he might die during the transfer. Shortly after, he turned 65 and immediately switched to Medicare and a Medicare insurance supplement.
- Travel: How close is your VA clinic? What about the VA hospital? What happens when you travel? Where is the local VA clinic or hospital then? If you are traveling and something happens, what would you do? Where would you go? How much would you spend? If you had Medicare Part B with a supplement, you could go to any doctor or hospital as long as they accept Medicare. This allows you the freedom to travel the United States and go to over 90%+ of all doctors and hospitals. However, with VA health benefits, if you go to a clinic outside of the VA and don’t have a referral, you will be paying out of pocket. You could try to get into the local VA clinic, but I have often called to make an appointment and been asked to wait a few days, or weeks and sometimes even months.
Medicare Health Coverage or VA Health Benefits?
When it comes to choosing either Medicare with a supplement and/or VA health benefits, it is important to remember the issues of time, networks and travel.
I encourage all Veterans to look into using their VA Benefits. And when you have Medicare call us and we will help you maximize your Medicare Benefits. You probably do not need full Medicare supplement coverage. So, let us guide you through the other plans and options that will fit your situation the best.
And one additional note. Tricare for Life is a different health insurance program for veterans. Tricare for Life works like a Medicare supplement and allows you access to the Medicare network.
If you still have questions about Medicare and VA health benefits, give me or any of our GoMedigap experts a call at (800) 310-2550 and we can discuss your options and see what might work best for you and your situation.