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How does Medicare work with coverage for veterans? Skip to content

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En español | If you have VA coverage and are eligible for Medicare, you’re not required to enroll in Part B, but you may have good reasons to do so. The VA itself strongly recommends that all veterans with VA health care also enroll in Medicare Parts A and B as soon as they become eligible (unless they have group insurance from a current employer). Here’s why:

  • VA health coverage isn’t set in stone and isn’t the same for everyone. The VA assigns enrollees to different priority levels according to various factors, such as income and whether they have any medical condition that derives from their military service. If federal funding drops or doesn't keep pace with costs, some vets in the lower priority levels may lose VA coverage entirely.
  • Having both Medicare and VA benefits greatly widens your coverage. If you need to go a non-VA hospital or doctor, you’re automatically covered under Part A and/or Part B — whereas with VA coverage alone, you’d very likely end up having to pay the full cost yourself, even in emergencies.  This is an important point to consider if you live some distance from the nearest VA facility.
  • You may be subject to penalties in the future. If someday, when you’re well past 65, you happen to lose VA coverage or otherwise decide that you need Medicare and are not already signed up for Part B (or have insurance from a current employer), you would likely have to wait a while for coverage and you’d be liable for late penalties that are permanently added to your Part B premiums.

Your VA prescription drug coverage is much better and less expensive than Medicare’s, so you don’t need to join a Part D drug plan, and you won’t be hit with Part D late enrollment penalties if you lose VA coverage in the future, provided that you sign up with a Part D drug plan within two months of that coverage ending. If you have both VA and Part D drug coverage, you have the flexibility of using one or the other. This would allow you to get prescriptions from non-VA doctors and fill them at local retail pharmacies; obtain medications that the VA doesn’t cover; and apply for low-cost drug coverage under Part D’s Extra Help program if your income is under a certain level. 

The Medicare and VA systems are entirely separate, with no coordination of benefits between them. You would use your VA identity card at VA facilities and your Medicare ID card anywhere else; then the bills would go either to the VA or to Medicare for payment. 

For more information on the VA health care system, go to the VA website at  

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