Veterans can utilize VA and Medicare Benefits

Qualifying veterans can receive care at VA facilities. Additionally, those 65 years old and older – and those with certain disabilities – may qualify for Medicare. The VA and Medicare offer different, yet valuable, benefits to veterans."

Through the VA, eligible veterans have access to a full range of preventive outpatient and inpatient services, within the VA health care system, which includes hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, pharmacies and doctors nationwide. VA co-payments and deductibles, including the costs of prescription drugs, are generally less than Medicare. Eligibility for benefits is based on a priority system. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website, there are more than 8 million people covered by the VA Health Care System.

Medicare has four parts – A, B, C and D. Part A covers inpatient services, including hospital, skilled nursing facility, home health and hospice care. Part B covers outpatient medical services, such as doctor visits, preventive care and durable medical equipment. Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage (MA), combines Parts A and B into one plan that is run by private insurance company. These plans may also include Part D, which is drug coverage.

You do not pay a premium for Part A. However, Part B generally requires a monthly payment.

Enrollment processes and eligibility differ for VA and Medicare. Veterans can choose to participate in one program or the other or both. Enrollment in a Medicare plan does not affect an individual's VA eligibility.

The VA recommends veterans not to decline Medicare. The VA states there is no guarantee funds will continue to be appropriated for medical care for all enrollment priority groups. Therefore, this could leave some veterans, especially those enrolled in one of the lower priority groups, with no access to care. For this reason, having a secondary source of coverage, like Medicare, may be in a veteran's best interest.

Additionally, people who decline Medicare Part B when they are first eligible to receive it face substantial financial penalties if they decide to enroll later. The initial enrollment period typically occurs in the three months before the person's 65th birthday, their birthday month and the three subsequent months. There is no similar penalty for veterans who delay Part D enrollment because the VA's drug coverage is deemed equal to or better than Medicare.

Other benefits of Medicare for veterans include having access to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies outside the VA network and potentially having a larger list of covered drugs. Wider access could be important in case of an emergency or if a veteran needs a second opinion or specialized care.

For more information about veterans and Medicare, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site at http://www4.va.gov/healtheligibility/ and click on "Medicare Information for Veterans."

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