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Medicare and TRICARE for Life

Understand how TRICARE for Life and Medicare do (and don't) coordinate.

By Dr. Katy Votava

With open enrollment for Medicare beginning October 15 and running through December 7, now is the time to understand how TRICARE for Life works with Medicare.

TRICARE for Life (TFL) is a federal health insurance program for Medicare-eligible military retirees and their spouses. TFL is a comprehensive supplement to Medicare and provides prescription drug coverage. TFL health insurance coverage is available to military retirees and their spouses when they reach age 65. Medicare Parts A and B enrollment are required to participate in TFL. TFL does not require enrollment in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan because it directly provides that coverage.

Dr. Katy Votava, president, and founder of GOODCARE.com®, is a registered professional nurse and has a Ph.D. in health economics and nursing from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. With her in-depth experience as a nurse practitioner and healthcare administrator, Dr. Votava is an expert in healthcare reimbursement and outcomes, including those related to Medicare, Medicaid, and long-term care. A major focus of Dr. Votava’s research is health care costs for people during their retirement years, and she has been published widely and spoken frequently on these topics.

Katy Votava

However, you cannot have a Medigap plan and TFL simultaneously. If you decided to leave TFL and enroll in a Medigap plan, you would also need a Medicare Part D standalone prescription drug plan. The total cost of Medigap and Medicare Part D plans, as well as the associated co-payments, would inevitably be higher than TFL. Better financial results are associated with keeping TLF as a supplement to Medicare.

In the face of escalating prescription drug costs, a TFL beneficiary who is a military retiree might get prescription medication cost relief by participating in VA healthcare. Many prescription medications are more economical through the VA. Participation in VA health services is in addition to but not a substitute for TFL. The caveat is that you must see VA healthcare providers periodically and use the VA pharmacy benefit fulfillment system. However, the spouse of a retired military TFL beneficiary is not eligible for VA Healthcare. Read more.

As a bonus, TFL includes coverage for international healthcare services, which Medicare does not. The TFL global healthcare benefits are more comprehensive than any Medigap plan.

Check out Healthcare for Military Service Members: TRICARE.


Read Preview 2023 TRICARE Health Plan Costs 


About the author: Katy Votava

Dr. Katy Votava, president, and founder of Goodcare.com®, is a registered professional nurse and has a Ph.D. in health economics and nursing from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. With her in-depth experience as a nurse practitioner and healthcare administrator, Dr. Votava is an expert in healthcare reimbursement and outcomes, including those related to Medicare, Medicaid, and long-term care. A major focus of Dr. Votava’s research is health care costs for people during their retirement years, and she has been published widely and spoken frequently on these topics.