The most important thing to consider when separating from the military is ensuring your immediate needs are taken care of. This includes making sure you have some cash coming in to cover your bills, a roof over your head, and health care coverage for you and your family. Unfortunately, you can only take your military health care benefits with you in limited circumstances, which we will cover in this article. If you don’t meet the limited qualifications for taking your TRICARE benefits with you, then you will be required to find your own health care. We will cover a few other options for finding affordable health care coverage in this article. These tips can help you find the best places to get medical benefits to make sure your family is covered.
Health Care Insurance After Separating from The Military
With only a few exceptions, military health care benefits cease for you and your family the day you leave the military. Some exceptions include retirees, those who qualify for Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP), and some veterans with service connected disability ratings. In the first two examples, your family will also continue to be covered by the military health care system. Those who qualify for VA medical care will no longer receive care directly from the military (the VA will take over), and family members will not be eligible for benefits.
Retiree medical care: If you are an active duty retiree, you should continue to be eligible for TRICARE benefits. These benefits differ slightly from active duty benefits, as you will have to enroll and pay a small annual fee for family members, but they are close enough in scope that the transition should be relatively painless compared to seeking out your own insurance.
Non-retirees: If you are not a retiree, your options are different. We will cover some options for you below.
Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP)
The Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP) is a short term health care program which will give you and your family an additional 180 days of health care coverage after you separate from the military. The benefits are the same as active duty health care, and if you qualify, you and your family will receive DoD issued ID cards for access to health care on base. TAMP is designed for military members and their families who are required to make a quick, and sometimes unexpected, exit from military service. Eligibility for TAMP depends on 2 factors: the reason you are separating form the military, and you must have an honorable discharge. Some qualifying reasons for separation include involuntary separation, stop-loss in support of a contingency operation, voluntary agreement to stay on active duty for less than one year in support of a contingency operation, receiving a sole survivorship discharge, and a few other select circumstances.
If you are eligible for TAMP, it should show up in your DEERS profile, and it is recommended you apply for these benefits before you separate from the military. This will give you 6 additional months of active duty health care coverage, which will hopefully be enough time to find a civilian health care plan, or transition to the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP), which is covered below.
If you do not qualify for TAMP, you and your family members may still be eligible for Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) or some of the other health care options listed in this article.
Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP)
In the civilian world, companies offer their employees COBRA Health Insurance Coverage, which allows their employees to take their group health insurance with them when they leave their company. The only catch is the former employee is required to pay for the entire cost of the plan (i.e. it is no longer subsidized by their former employer). COBRA benefits are usually good for 18 months.
The military doesn’t have an exact COBRA program, but they offer something very similar with the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). Participants who are leaving the military health care system (TRICARE) are able to buy into the CHCBP.
Program eligibility: This program offers 18-36 months of benefits and is open to anyone who is leaving TRICARE, including military members and their families, children who lose age eligibility for TRICARE, divorced spouses, etc. This program is open to a wide variety of people, but there is a cost involved: the premiums for FY 2012 is $1,065 per quarter for individuals and $2,390 per quarter for families.
Here is more information about the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP).
Group and Individual Health Insurance
Health insurance in the US is usually broken down into two categories: group health care coverage and individual health care coverage. A group health care plan is a health plan that is shared by a large group of people. These plans are often offered by employers as part of your benefits. TRICARE is an example of a group health care plan. An individual health care plan is just what they sound like – a health care plan that is for an individual or an individual family, and is not part of a larger group benefits plan.
How to get a group health care plan: A general rule of thumb is that you will be able to get a group health insurance plan through an employer, trade group, or another large group. Some companies also offer health care benefits to part time employees. It’s always a good idea to find out if there is a waiting period before you are eligible for benefits.
Individual health care plans: Individual health care plans vary by state and region, and there is no way I can list or cover them all on this site. The most important thing to know is which type of insurance you need, then compare plans to find the best cost/benefit ratio for your family. The best place I have found to compare individual health care plans online is eHealthInsurance.com, which offers a variety of health plans in each state.
There are pros and cons to both of these types of health care plans, and you can learn more about them here: Individual Health Insurance vs. Group Health Insurance.
Attending School? Look Into Educational Health Insurance
Most colleges and universities require students carry health care coverage while attending school, and many of them also offer affordable health care plans to enrolled students and their families. Keep in mind that you need to be enrolled in courses to be eligible for these health care plans, so plan accordingly if you are separating from the military and won’t be starting classes for a few months.
Make sure you are covered
Health insurance is one of the most important types of insurance you can ever purchase – it doesn’t take much to run up a large hospital bill, and having insurance can protect you from major bills which may otherwise break you.