One of the most overlooked aspects of leaving the military is losing your military health care benefits. Love it, or hate it, TRICARE provides military members and their families with a stable health care plan which is virtually unrivaled in the private sector. If you have just left, or are leaving the military health care system soon, then the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) may (literally) prove to be a lifesaver.
The Continued Health Care Benefit Program is available to everyone who is leaving TRICARE (the military health care system), including military members, their dependents, unmarried former spouses, children, and other dependents who qualify for TRICARE.
That means the CHCBP may be a good option for service members and their families who are separating from the military, spouses going through a divorce, children who are moving out of the house or lose age eligibility for TRICARE, and other situations. Let’s take a look at this program including what it covers, who is eligible, and how to apply for benefits.
CHCBP – Military Version of COBRA Health Coverage
In the civilian world, companies that offer group health care coverage to their employees are also required to offer them COBRA Health Insurance Coverage, which makes employer-sponsored health care benefits available to former employees for up to 18 months after they leave their job. This helps ensure people have access to health insurance that is not tied to their employment. The primary difference is that the employer often subsidizes benefits while the employee works for the company, but they are not required to do so under COBRA. Basically, the former employee still has access to the same benefits, but they are required to pay 100% of the cost of the program.
While the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) is similar to COBRA, it isn’t actually a true COBRA benefits program, since the health care provider under CHCBP isn’t TRICARE.
But the program is similar to COBRA since the benefits under CHCBP are very similar to those under TRICARE Standard, and the members are required to pay premiums to participate in the program. However, the cost may actually be less than many commercial sector COBRA benefits programs.
What the CHCBP Is, and Isn’t
The Continued Health Care Benefit Program is an optional health care program which, like COBRA benefits, is designed to be a transitional medical care program, not a permanent solution. It is designed to provide insurance in between military health care coverage and a civilian health care program. Though the CHCBP is not TRICARE, it does follow most of the same rules and benefits as TRICARE Standard. The main difference, as mentioned above, is that participants are required to pay a premium to participate.
Continuous health care coverage and pre-existing c0verage. The benefit of using the CHCBP is that you will have continuous health care coverage, which can be important in qualifying for a new health care plan, especially if you are buying an individual health care plan, or if you have pre-existing medical conditions. You can also elect to purchase a pre-existing condition coverage health care plan through the CHCBP, which may entitle you to coverage for pre-existing conditions which may not be covered by your employer’s group plan or by an individual health care plan.
Qualifying for Continued Health Care Benefit Program Benefits
The main eligibility requirement is that the member must be coming out of TRICARE coverage, or the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP). This program is open to active duty military members, their families and dependents, divorced spouses who are not remarried, and children who exceed the age requirements for TRICARE.
You must decide quickly – or you lose eligibility. Eligible members only have 60 days in which to elect to purchase Continued Health Care Benefit Program benefits. (30 days for TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) members who have remaining eligibility). The clock starts running when the member separates from active duty, or the member loses military health care benefits.
Eligibility is limited to 18 or 36 months.
- 18 months for separating Service Members and their families if service member elects family coverage.
- 36 months for a family member who ceases to meet the requirements for being considered an unmarried dependent child or spouse. (In some cases, un-remarried former spouses may continue coverage beyond 36 months if they meet certain criteria. )
Eligibility beyond 36 months for certain former spouses. Former spouses who meet the following criteria may be eligible for more than 36 months of CHCBP benefits (see the US Code for more specific info):
- Did not remarry before age 55
- Was enrolled in an approved health benefits plan under this chapter as a family member at any time during the 18-month period before the date of the divorce, dissolution, or annulment
- Is receiving any portion of the retired or retainer pay of the member or former member servicemember, or has a court order or written agreement which provides a share of the retirement benefits.
Continued Health Care Benefit Program Cost and Management
The Continued Health Care Benefit Program is run by Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc. The cost of the CHCBP premiums is based on the Fiscal Year (beginning October 1, and ending Sept 30). The cost for Fiscal Year 2012 is $1,065 per quarter for individuals and $2,390 per quarter for families. On the surface, these premiums appear to be expensive, especially when compared to the no-cost TRICARE Prime you are most likely used to. However, these premiums are often comparable to unsubsidized group health care plans.
Here is more info on enrollment, including eligibility requirements for Guard/Reserve members who were activated. You will also need to contact Humana Military healthcare services in order to start the program. Please see the previous link, or contact them at the info listed below:
Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 740072
Louisville, KY 40201
1-800-444-5445, option 4
Is the Continued Health Care Benefit Program a Good deal?
Health care in the US is a complicated business and finding the best plan can be a chore – especially if you are not immediately employed when you separate from the military. My recommendation is to start looking at your health care options well in advance of losing your TRICARE benefits (this advice stands for all TRICARE members, including the active duty service member, their families and dependents, and spouses going through a divorce).
It is always a good idea to look into health care through your employer, and if you do not have a job lined up, you should investigate the cost of an individual health care plan. Here is more info on comparing individual and group health insurance to better understand which options are best for you. You can also compare health insurance plans at a variety of vendors. My favorite based on personal experience is eHealthInurance.com, which offers free custom health insurance quotes in each state.
If you are in good health and do not have any pre-existing medical conditions, you may be able to find a cheaper individual health care plan on your own. However, depending on your employment prospects and current health, you may find that the CHCBP is the most affordable option available to you (This can often be the case if you do not have a job right away and you have pre-existing medical conditions). Certain veterans are eligible for VA health care benefits, however, it may take time to establish eligibility, so it is recommended to have a health care plan in place before leaving the military health care system to avoid any breaks in service.