The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and TRICARE offer robust health insurance coverage to veterans, but the VA recommends that veterans also apply for and maintain Medicare coverage. Having Medicare lets you get care from more doctors and hospitals. Medicare also provides coverage if you lose your VA benefits for any reason.
Best Medicare for veterans
Humana, AARP/UnitedHealthcare and Aetna sell the best Medicare options for veterans.
Veterans often have government-funded health insurance options through the VA or TRICARE. Having Medicare in addition to those coverages can provide additional benefits, including access to more doctors and hospitals.
You can complement your veteran health insurance plan with a Medicare Advantage plan. You could also purchase Original Medicare Parts A and B. If you choose to buy Original Medicare, you might want to add a Medicare Supplement plan or a Medicare Part D drug coverage plan for additional coverage.
Best Medicare Advantage plan for veterans
The Humana Honor with Rx plan combines the different Medicare parts into one policy and is the best Medicare Advantage plan for veterans. It gives you the flexibility to choose between VA and civilian health care providers and has a $0 monthly premium. Additionally, the plan can help you save on the cost of your Medicare Part B coverage.
Anyone who is eligible for Medicare can sign up for Humana's Medicare Advantage Honor plan, but veterans may find its features especially appealing. All of the Humana Honor plans are recommended by USAA, but the two companies partnered to design the Honor with Rx plan for 2023.
The plan includes $15 copays for in-network doctors and $45 copays for specialists, although you'll pay half of the total cost if you go out of the plan's network.
Preferred generic drugs, also called Tier 1 drugs, have a $0 copay. Generic drugs, called Tier 2, only cost $5. You'll pay the full price for brand name or specialty drugs until you reach the $350 drug deductible. After you reach the deductible, you'll pay a copay or coinsurance on all drugs until you reach $4,660, at which point you'll pay 25% of your drug costs until you hit $7,400.
The VA also provides prescription drug coverage. Veterans with the most pressing health care needs or those who have received a Medal of Honor are in "Priority group 1" and generally do not pay for prescription drugs. If you're in Priority group 2 through 8, you'll pay a medication copay for non-service-related conditions. If you need medication based on a service-related issue, your medication may be free.
You'll also have access to annual vision, dental and hearing care (although you may pay for more involved services), SilverSneakers and a meal delivery service. The Honor with Rx plan also includes robust mental health benefits, which can be important for veterans. The plan includes coverage for inpatient mental health care, as well as group and individual outpatient therapy.
However, what you pay for your health care with the Honor with Rx plan can be high. While the $400 annual deductible is low, the total in-network out-of-pocket maximum is $6,550 per year. If you use in-network and out-of-network doctors, the maximum is $7,990.
Best Medicare Supplement plan for veterans
AARP/UnitedHealthcare offers a Medicare Supplement Plan G with benefits that make it a good choice for veterans. Plan G is the best Medicare Supplement plan due to its robust coverage. AARP/UnitedHealthcare's Plan G + Wellness Benefits is a good choice to keep your health care expenses low.
Medicare Supplement plans, also called Medigap plans, can be purchased along with Original Medicare (Parts A and B). Medigap coverage can drastically reduce what you pay for health care. Buying Original Medicare and a Medicare Supplement plan is usually a better option for those with extensive health care needs. Remember to compare Medigap's cost versus coverage to find the best deal for your situation.
Medigap Plan G covers the costs for skilled nursing facilities and Medicare Part A hospice care, which can be important insurance for veterans as they age. On average, a Plan G from AARP/UnitedHealthcare costs $135 per month.
AARP/UnitedHealthcare takes the coverage further by adding the Wellness Benefits package. You'll get the same Part G coverage as well as discounts on vision, dental and hearing care. The plan includes coverage for a gym membership, too.
Best Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for veterans
Aetna offers the best Part D drug coverage for veterans because of its low rates. Aetna's plans have a Medicare star rating of 3.5 out of 5, which is higher than many other Part D plan ratings and indicates satisfied customers. If you choose to buy Original Medicare rather than a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage, you may want to buy a separate Part D policy to get coverage for medications.
VA benefits provide drug coverage but require you to use VA doctors, hospitals and pharmacies. There are just under 1,300 VA facilities in the United States, and there's no guarantee there's one near you. A stand-alone Part D plan, when combined with Original Medicare, allows you to get medical care and prescriptions at locations that may be more convenient.
Aetna offers three Part D options: SilverScript SmartSaver, SilverScript Choice and SilverScript Plus. These plans offer different coverage levels, copays and deductibles.
Average Monthly Cost
The SmartSaver plan may be a good choice if you don't have many medication needs, but if you have several prescriptions or have a need for specialty drugs, the higher cost of the Plus plan could make sense. SilverScript Plus is the only plan with no drug deductible for any of the drug categories, which means your plan will immediately pay the full cost of your drugs.
However, Aetna's SilverScript Part D drug plans use CVS pharmacies, which have the lowest rating in J.D. Power's Pharmacy Study.
Find Cheap Medicare Plans in Your Area
VA benefits vs. Original Medicare
Even if you have VA benefits, having Medicare is a good idea.
The VA encourages veterans to apply for Medicare coverage when they first become eligible to avoid late enrollment penalties. Having both VA and Medicare coverage has benefits.
However, the VA does not coordinate benefits with Medicare. You'll have to decide which coverage to use when you get care. Your VA benefits can only be used at VA facilities. Original Medicare is widely accepted at non-VA health care offices, but it doesn't hurt to confirm before you go to a doctor.
You'll also be responsible for paying monthly Medicare premiums, which will vary based on the type of coverage you choose. In 2023, most people pay $164.90 per month for Medicare Part B, and the fee is typically deducted from Social Security benefits. If you buy a Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement or Medicare Part D policy, you'll also pay the monthly premium for that plan.
TRICARE for Life and Medicare
TRICARE is a health care program for certain military personnel and their families. There are several coverage types available, but TRICARE for Life is coverage that works with Medicare Parts A and B.
If you have Medicare Parts A and B and are also eligible for TRICARE, you're automatically enrolled in TRICARE for Life. Unlike Medicare and VA benefits, which work separately, TRICARE for Life works with your Medicare benefits. If you need health care, your provider will file a claim with Medicare. For any costs that Medicare doesn't pay, a claim will be filed with TRICARE for Life.
Typically, you won't have any costs for services that are covered by both TRICARE for Life and Medicare. For retired and inactive service members within the United States, Medicare will usually pay first and TRICARE for Life will pay the rest. If you're out of the country, where Medicare coverage isn't valid, TRICARE becomes your primary coverage. You'll then be responsible for paying the TRICARE deductible, as well as any copays and coinsurance amounts.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need health insurance if I have VA benefits?
You don't have to buy health insurance or Medicare if you have VA benefits, but it's a good idea. Both private health insurance and Medicare allow you to get coverage at non-VA facilities, which helps you get care faster and more conveniently. Additionally, if you lose your VA benefits or if VA funding is cut, having either health insurance or Medicare means you still have medical coverage.
Is Medicare and TRICARE for Life enough coverage?
Having both Medicare and TRICARE for Life is usually enough coverage for most people. However, TRICARE for Life only covers Medicare-eligible people and doesn't cover family members or spouses like other TRICARE programs. You may need to find additional coverage for dependents.
Can the VA be secondary insurance?
No. Typically, VA benefits and Medicare won't pay for the same services, so neither will be the primary or secondary insurance. VA benefits will pay for services at VA-approved locations, while Medicare will pay for services elsewhere.
Methodology and sources
Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D costs are based on 2023 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) public use files (PUFs). Medicare Advantage costs are based on plans that include prescription drug coverage. Our analysis excludes Part-B-only plans, employer-sponsored plans, Special Needs Plans (SNPs), Medicare-Medicaid Plans (MMPs), PACE plans, sanctioned plans and Health Care Prepayment Plans (HCPPs). Medicare Part D costs exclude sanctioned plans and employer-sponsored plans.
Medicare Supplement rates, which represent a 65-year-old nonsmoking woman, are based on data from private insurance companies. Rates are for the open enrollment period and are preferred or guaranteed-issue. We did not factor medical underwriting rates into our analysis.
Medicare Advantage star ratings are from publicly available CMS files.
We chose the best Medicare Advantage, Supplement and Part D plans based on analyzed features that meet the needs of veterans, average rates and availability. Features include the ease of getting medical care, the total cost of prescription drugs and the total out-of-pocket cost of health care services.
Additional sources include AARP/UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, AM Best, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Humana, J.D. Power, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and TRICARE.