Medicare Answers: Veterans Health Administration vs. Medicare

  • Originally published January 21, 2014 , last updated January 15, 2018
  • Medicare
Medicare Answers: Veterans Health Administration vs. Medicare

This week’s Medicare Answers addresses if veterans turning 65 should only use Veteran’s Health Administration instead of Medicare. If you have a Medicare question, email

Jason asks:

I am always running into people turning 65 who have served our country in the past, are using the Veteran’s Health Administration, and don’t feel they need to sign up for Medicare. Should they?


You are not alone. I get several of these letters per year and even have addressed similar questions in previous columns. A short answer is, no, they do not have to sign up for Medicare, but there are several reasons they should.

Using both Veterans Administration (VA) benefits and Medicare allows them to see more doctors, especially if their health condition needs varied options. It may afford them to go to a wider selection of hospitals, doctors or other services. Also, if federal funding drops or doesn’t keep up with rising costs, and because of the way the VA assigns priority levels, they might lose VA coverage altogether.

It’s a good idea to enroll when they first become eligible, because if they miss the initial enrollment period they will end up paying a penalty. The Part B penalty permanently adds an extra 10 percent to their monthly premium for each year that they delay. That could mean hundreds of dollars per year in penalties for your clients. Also, they will have to wait to enroll between January and the end of March, with coverage not beginning until July 1st of that year.

As for Part D prescription drug coverage, the VA has a great program, if clients live close enough to a facility to accommodate them. The VA also has mail order prescriptions. The VA prescription program is “creditable coverage,” and clients don’t have to worry about a penalty if they later decide to sign up for Part D. Here they don’t have worry about late penalties if they lose coverage for various reasons.