The Department of Veterans Affairs has been in the headlines a lot recently, though if you’re a veteran you’re probably not liking what you’re reading. The VA has been widely criticized after it was discovered that many of its patients were experiencing wait times for primary care appointments that were far longer than the administration’s goal of 2 weeks, in some cases reaching lengths of more than 3 months.
This has many considering the option of Medicare as an alternative to VA treatment, especially Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage. Though the VA has publicly stated that it is making efforts to reduce wait times, many veterans are taking a good hard look at what Medicare has to offer, unsure of if or when this promise will be fulfilled.
Medicare Benefits and VA Benefits
Even before the recent news regarding VA wait times broke, Veterans over the age of 65 were enrolling in Medicare as a means of obtaining coverage the VA does not offer. It’s important to remember that the VA’s health care is not a health insurance plan and does bill the insurance companies of veterans who are treated for non-service related conditions. “Generally, VA cannot bill Medicare, but can bill Medicare supplemental health insurance for covered services.” In addition, the amount of coverage provided by the VA is restricted to the amount of funding it receives from Congress, which leaves open the possibility that the VA may not be able to provide coverage in any given year depending on demand for services.
Medicare and the VA’s health services are not connected, which makes Medicare a viable option as far as supplementary care for veterans. Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) are particularly attractive as they combine parts A and B and may cover services that veterans are not eligible for under VA care.
You can read more about parts A and B in our blogs but in general, A covers care in hospitals and other skilled care facilities, and B covers physicians fees for medically necessary and preventatives services. These benefits are especially important, again, for veterans seeking treatment for non-service related conditions. Depending on the nature of the treatment, it may be cheaper under part C than it would be under the VA health plan. Even if you elect not to go with part C, most people are eligible for premium-free part A. However, many consider the services offered by part B, including coverage of services necessary to diagnose treatment and preventative care, well worth the cost. And still more are choosing to roll these two parts into one for the potential of greater savings and fewer out-of-pocket costs using part C.
Advantage plans also offer prescription drug plans which can be used in conjunction with drug plans from the VA without having to sacrifice one for the other. The only stipulation here is that if a veteran chooses to enroll in a Medicare drug plan and abandon the VA plan, he or she may not be able to obtain drug coverage from the VA in the future. However, for those who lose their VA coverage and join a Medicare drug plan, “in most cases, you won’t have to pay a penalty, as long as you join within 63 days of losing your coverage.”
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