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Fall is a great time for veterans to review their healthcare options and take advantage of benefits they’ve earned for serving. They can save a great deal of money, but the challenge is understanding which option is best for their family. Premiums, copays, and total out-of-pocket costs can depend upon several factors such as current military status, length of service, a Veterans Administration (VA) service disability rating, and current income.

The following outlines the healthcare options afforded to active and reserve component retirees and spouses that are 65 and older.

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I am proud of my service to my country. But I nearly burst with pride when I think of the soldiers with whom I served.

Active duty family members, and military retirees and their spouses who are under 65 enjoy very low premiums for medical care — about $600 annually for a family of two or more; about $300 for a single retiree or surviving spouse who has not remarried. Their options include TRICARE Select, TRICARE Prime, or the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan that were detailed in Part One. These TRICARE programs afford beneficiaries the option to receive medical care at military bases and the Humana Military network, or with Johns Hopkins doctors and Hopkins-credentialed physicians throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Legislation enacted in 2012 by Congress and signed into law during the Obama Administration, now requires military pensioners to contribute more toward medical costs and buy Medicare when they reach 65. As is the case for most Americans, monthly Medicare premiums are about $135 per person and they adjust each year based upon figures reported in tax returns filed two years previously. While many military retirees are surprised at the relatively large increase in their annual healthcare costs, they do not need to purchase Medicare supplemental plans or Part C and D, which can cost their civilian neighbors many thousands of dollars each year.

When patients are nearing end-of-life, there is generally a need to share life review — or stories of their life. This may be helpful for the patients to feel they are leaving a legacy for their family and future generations. This may also be necessary to help heal a “soul injury.”

TRICARE for Life is a free benefit for military pensioners and their spouses, and it pays the 20% of medical costs Medicare does not cover. TRICARE for Life also provides comprehensive prescription drug coverage for retiree and spouse. In addition, beneficiaries can choose to travel to local military bases for free prescriptions. If they prefer, they can use a variety of civilian pharmacies for a small copay.

It is important that retired military veterans and spouses know when to sign up for Medicare. Those who were born on the first day of the month become eligible for Medicare on the first month before they turn 65 — these individuals should apply for Medicare two to four months before the month they turn 65. For all others, they become eligible for Medicare on the first day of the month they turn 65 — they should sign up for Medicare one to three months before the month they turn 65.

An active duty service member and his or her spouse who turns 65 can defer purchasing Medicare. However, these beneficiaries must sign up for Medicare within the first eight months following either: (1) the month the sponsor’s active duty service ends, or (2) the month their TRICARE Select, Prime, or US Family Health Plan coverage ends, whichever occurs first. If they fail to sign up on time, they could be charged a 10% penalty per year they fail to purchase Medicare Part B and they could also experience a break in TRICARE coverage.

Veterans’ View is an opportunity to draw attention to veterans issues as well as to inform and educate the community and all veterans about available services.

For more information, visit www.medicare.gov and www.tricare4u.com. For TRICARE Select and TRICARE Prime, visit www.tricare.mil. For the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan visit www.HopkinsUSFHP.org.

Steve Whisler is a retired Naval Officer who serves on the Carroll County Veterans Advisory Council. He is also the Military Liaison and Field Services Manager for a major health system in our region. He and his staff visit military installations and veteran service organizations throughout the mid-Atlantic to educate Veterans on their healthcare options.

This is a special edition of Veterans’ View. Veterans View typically runs the first Tuesday of each month, as the Times’ editorial as an opportunity to draw attention to veterans’ issues as well as to inform and educate the community and all veterans about the multitude of available services.

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