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Get a VA/Medicare Advantage combo

Open Enrollment 2020: How to maximize healthcare

With the Medicare Open Enrollment period ending Dec. 7, veterans can look to Medicare Advantage as a supplement to their VA benefits. Photo credit: Matthias Zomer from Pexels

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As veterans approach 65 years of age and Medicare eligibility, there are questions about Medicare Advantage and how it meshes with their Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.

Traditional Medicare is available; however, the number of veterans -- with or without VA benefits -- has increased who have enrolled in Medicare Advantage.

Also known as Medicare Part C, Medicare Advantage makes it possible for veterans to receive their Medicare benefits in an alternative manner.

Simply put, Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies which have contracted with Medicare to provide at least the same coverage that Medicare Part A and Part B provide. 

This provides veterans with an opportunity to consolidate their health benefits, and there is data to support this.

The number of Americans receiving Medicare Advantage benefits through a private health plan has skyrocketed from five million to nearly 18 million (an increase of about 260 percent) since 2004.

Analysts point out that many veterans are interested in having more coverage. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer hearing, dental and wellness programs that are not paid for under traditional (Part A and Part B) Medicare coverage.

Another feature of Medicare Advantage is that it provides retired veterans with the peace-of-mind that comes with limited out-of-pocket expenses. This is a feature that traditional Medicare does not have.

A third advantage of Medicare Advantage is that it provides for worldwide emergency coverage while traditional Medicare does not.

But most important for military veterans approaching Medicare eligibility, Medicare Advantage works with their existing Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.

A 2017 report by USAA made the following clear: Medicare Advantage and VA benefits complement each other.

Veterans Can Have Both: Coverage through a Medicare Advantage Plan does not conflict with VA healthcare services, and it does increase veterans' flexibility and options in terms of how and where they receive healthcare.

An All-In-One-Package: USAA's research found that one feature of a Medicare Advantage/VA combo plan is that veterans appreciate having all of their needs covered.

Getting a Second Option: If important health issues arise, veterans may want to get a second opinion. Having two separate healthcare sources -- the VA and a Medicare Advantage plan -- can provide the way to do that.

Cash Flow: For many veterans approaching retirement, this is a concern. VA health services do not cost anything, and if there are expenses they are relatively low.

On the other hand, with a Medicare Advantage plan there is an average monthly premium of $40 (which includes drug coverage) according to a 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation report. Bear in mind, this is less than the $134-month premium paid by those who have Medicare Parts A and B.

Minimize Travel & Delays: If wait time at a VA facility or through the Veterans Choice Program is an issue, or travel is a hassle, adding Medicare Advantage coverage provides a cost-effective way to provide medical care.

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