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Published Aug 24, 2022 9:06 AM

Choosing the right type of health insurance for veterans doesn’t have to be complicated. Even so, veterans do have unique coverage needs spanning from sleep disorders and maternity care to mental health treatment and service-related injuries that require ongoing care. Fortunately, there is help in the form of government-backed programs, special benefits, and private civilian insurance plans.

The health of those who’ve served the country shouldn’t just boil down to a healthcare insurance policy. It needs to address a veteran’s whole health and wellness with world-class services and medical resources. Keep reading to learn about quality health insurance for veterans and their families.

Best Overall

Most uniformed military personnel are familiar with TRICARE, which provides free and low-cost health care for active-duty service members and their families. The good news is that for some veterans, TRICARE will undoubtedly continue to be the best health insurance option after leaving the military.

Unfortunately, TRICARE doesn’t cover all veterans. Vets who have retired from duty are eligible, as are those who are medically retired due to disability or chronic disease. But separated service members will not qualify, with one exception: recipients of the Medal of Honor and their families.

Still, qualifying veterans have a lot to like about TRICARE’s retired service member plans. It provides several individual options: Prime, Select, Overseas, and TRICARE for Life, which is wraparound coverage for those who also carry Medicare Parts A and B. TRICARE also offers a family plan to those who live in select states and optional dental and vision insurance through FEDVIP for federal employees.

While no longer free for retired veterans, TRICARE plans are low-cost — especially when compared to civilian insurance providers. On the other hand, many of the benefits will continue to remain the same after retirement, such as use of military pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics, as well as access to the TRICARE Pharmacy Program. The Department of Defense provides more plan details in its Retiring from Active Duty brochure.

Key Features
  • Premiums that are routinely lower than those offered by civilian health insurance companies
  • Access to military hospitals and clinics
  • Insurance options for families, young adults, and those living overseas
Why It Made The Cut
  • Few insurers can compete with the premiums and benefits offered by TRICARE, but its strict eligibility requirements will leave some military veterans looking elsewhere for health coverage.
PROS

Low-cost prescription fulfillment

Pharmacy home delivery

Supplemental vision and dental insurance available

CONS

Not available for all veterans — only retired service members and Medal of Honor recipients

Not all plans available in every state

Best Value

Military veterans who are ineligible for TRICARE may qualify for the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA). While not officially an insurance provider, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers this program to those veterans who are not military retirees or the spouse of a veteran who was killed in action.

Among its many benefits is that CHAMPVA covers most medical procedures and services, such as ambulatory surgery, family planning and maternity, hospice, mental health, outpatient, pharmacy, and transplants, to name a few. While there are exclusions, and some types of extended care will likely be reviewed periodically, CHAMPVA provides quality, low-cost coverage for veterans and their families.

CHAMPVA does not operate a network of medical providers, but policyholders can receive care from their local VA Medical Centers, as well as hospitals and clinics that accept Medicare or TRICARE. So you’ll presumably find healthcare services near you. However, for those who want treatment with a non-VA medical physician, CHAMPVA offers few options.

You can review CHAMPVA benefits and eligibility requirements in more detail through its online pamphlet, and contact veterans services by phone with any questions: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET at 800-733-8387.

Key Features
  • Affordable healthcare for non-retired veterans and their families
  • Covers most necessary medical procedures and services
  • Pays up to 75 percent for prosthetics, orthotics, and other medical equipment
Why It Made The Cut
  • Veterans who have low-cost insurance needs, but do not qualify for TRICARE, may find what they’re looking for with this program designed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
PROS

Fulfills the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance requirement

Meds by Mail program for non-urgent medication

24/7 Veterans Crisis Line (dial 998, then press 1)

CONS

No options for out-of-network medical services

Underdeveloped online and mobile offerings

Best for Disabled Vets

Humana’s Special Needs Plan (SNP) provides coverage for veterans and others suffering from disabling chronic medical conditions and those who are residents of long-term care facilities. Technically, SNP is a Medicare Advantage Plan, but one that blends benefits from Parts A and B of the Original Medicare Plan with prescription drug coverage.

SNP comes in two varieties. The Chronic Condition Special Needs Plan (C-SNP) is designed for those suffering from disabling conditions such as cardiovascular disorders, chronic heart failure, diabetes, and lung disorders. Its Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plan (D-SNP) combines all Medicare benefits and state-run Medicaid benefits into a single, convenient plan.

The primary disadvantage to SNP is that veterans must qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid to be eligible. Indeed, all of Humana’s individual plans are provided through Medicare, as the provider has recently shifted its focus from private insurance to employer-based offerings.

Still, for disabled veterans who both qualify for coverage and live in one of the states that offers either C-SNP or D-SNP, Humana may provide quality comprehensive care at an affordable price.

The provider also offers Medicare Advantage plans for those without a disability or chronic condition, including an HMO, PPO, supplemental vision and dental, prescription drug plan (PDP), and private fee-for-service plan (PFFS).

Key Features
  • Specialty coverage for chronic disabilities and long-term care residents
  • Humana Neighborhood Centers provide free programs and services
  • Supplemental vision, dental, and prescription drug coverage available
Why It Made The Cut
  • Veterans struggling with a disability or chronic condition should know about Humana. This insurer’s Special Needs Plan is among the best, but there are a few eligibility hurdles.
PROS

Virtual doctor visits and telemedicine access

High rankings in J.D. Power surveys

Meal programs for post-discharge and patients with chronic conditions

CONS

Special Needs Plan not available in all 50 states

Private policies only available through Humana Medicare

Blue Cross Blue Shield is an expansive network of state and regional insurance companies that operate independently. Broadly known as the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), this alliance of providers gives its members the flexibility to receive health care in all 50 states. What’s more, veterans who live or work overseas may find a plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield Global that gives them access to international medical services via GeoBlue and Bupa Global.

With insurance options spanning the globe, it’s no wonder that BCBSA offers preferred provider organization plans (PPOs) that are arguably without equal when it comes to choice. While all PPO programs give patients the freedom to seek care from any provider — both in- and out-of-network — few offer the vast portfolio of doctors, specialists, and hospitals that Blue Cross Blue Shield does.

BCBSA provides the health plans that most would expect of a nationwide insurer: HMOs, PPOs, Medicare plans, dental, and health spending accounts (HSAs), to name a few. Of course, price points and access will vary depending on your medical history, state of residence, and the level of coverage you choose. The provider offers several tiers: Bronze, Silver, and Gold — and each plan comes with different individual deductibles, premiums, coinsurance coverage, and copay for primary care physicians (PCP).

Blue Cross Blue Shield companies win high ratings for patient care and customer satisfaction in many states, according to the NCQA. The network was also awarded top honors in multiple areas of the U.S. in J.D. Power’s Commercial Member Health Plan Study.

Key Features
  • Most widely accepted provider with plans in all 50 states
  • Blue Distinction program matches patients with specialty care
  • Blue365 provides discounts on health and wellness products and services
Why It Made The Cut
  • Veterans who want freedom and flexibility may find a friend in Blue Cross Blue Shield. Its PPO plans may be peerless when it comes to choice and access to healthcare coverage.
PROS

24/7 nurse line and telemedicine platform

Top marks on NCQA Report Card

High rankings in J.D. Power surveys

CONS

Not always the cheapest option

Medicare Advantage not available in all states

The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan is a nonprofit insurance company that operates in select states and regions. Unlike other insurers, Kaiser Permanente offers its members both health insurance and medical care by way of its network of hospitals, physicians, and other medical service centers. This model streamlines the health care for many veterans and their families.

Kaiser offers highly-rated health maintenance organization plans (HMOs) that provide affordable copays, low-cost premiums, zero deductibles, and discounted prescription drug costs. It also participates in Medicaid programs and offers several Medicare plans, including Part C, Part D, and Medicare Advantage Plus for veterans who want options for dental and vision.

Kaiser Permanente also provides preventative care programs that give veterans access to wellness coaching, mental health services, women’s health services, addiction recovery programs, and more.

Many of Kaiser’s HMO plans receive five-star ratings from NCQA’s Health Plan Report Card. It has only two complaints logged with the NAIC, and the provider receives the top spot for customer satisfaction in both California and Colorado, according to J.D. Power.

Key Features
  • Highly-rated HMO and Medicare Advantage plans
  • Relatively low health insurance premiums available
  • Provides health insurance and medical services under one roof
Why It Made The Cut
  • Kaiser Permanente is no stranger to accolades. In fact, this insurer’s HMO plans are generally agreed to be unrivaled when it comes to coverage costs and choice of providers.
PROS

Top marks on NCQA Report Card

Few complaints with NAIC

High rankings in J.D. Power surveys

CONS

Not available in all 50 states

Poor out-of-network flexibility

No Medicare Supplement plans (Medigap)

Things to consider before buying health insurance for veterans

VA Health Care benefits

Most veterans can receive care from the Veterans Health Administration’s VA Health Care program. It provides regular checkups with a primary care provider and access to specialists, including cardiologists, oncologists, gynecologists, and more. 

Keep in mind that the VA is a healthcare provider, not a health insurance company. And while you may have access to important medical benefits through the VA, some experience coverage gaps that private insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid might fill. Fortunately, you can carry health coverage from a third party, and it won’t affect your VA healthcare benefits.

Employer-provided health insurance

The best health insurance for veterans will usually be an employer-provided plan. These types of civilian employment benefits provide access to coverage discounts that are typically much cheaper than carrying an individual policy with a private insurer.

Veterans can still take advantage of their VA benefits while carrying out their employer’s group plan. In addition, Veterans who qualify for Medicare can often still hold private insurance, too. For the most part, the employer-provided plan acts as the “primary payer,” which pays first, up to the coverage limits. Then the “secondary payer” contributes costs that are not covered by the primary. Be aware that you still may have some out-of-pocket costs even with double coverage.

Yet veterans who are self-employed or retired from the civilian workforce may need to seek coverage from a private health insurance company. HealthCare.gov can connect you with your state’s insurance marketplace. 

Policy costs and benefits

Perhaps the most significant detail when choosing an insurer is whether they offer the care that you need at a price that you can afford.

Furthermore, everyone’s insurance needs are different. Do you prioritize flexibility in care providers? Do you already have a specialist or doctor that you like? Do you travel a lot? If so, a PPO plan will allow you to receive both in-network and out-of-network care. However, this flexibility may come at a premium.

Veterans who need lower monthly payments, or stay close to home, may find what they’re looking for with an HMO. These plans are typically more affordable, and you’ll also pay less out-of-pocket. But the trade-off is that you’re required to use a primary care physician, seek referrals before visiting specialists, and out-of-network care is not covered.   

Regardless of the type of plan you choose, be sure to evaluate policies by their deductibles and coinsurance or copays. These expenses vary depending on the insurance provider and the policy. You can save money and get the care you need by understanding your options before choosing a policy.

FAQs about health insurance for veterans

Q: Can I get TRICARE as a veteran?

A: Veterans who are retired service members can get TRICARE. Similarly, the families of retired service members, former spouses, survivors, and retired Guard/Reserve members can also qualify. However, TRICARE is not available to veterans who have separated from the military but are not officially retired. The sole exception is for non-retired veterans who are recipients of the Medal of Honor. Lastly, veterans may qualify for temporary TRICARE coverage when transitioning off military health insurance.

Q: What is the insurance for veterans called?

A: In most cases, the insurance for veterans is called CHAMPVA, which is officially known as the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. CHAMPVA should not be confused with the Veterans Health Administration (VA). The VA does provide some healthcare benefits to veterans, but it is not technically a health insurance plan. 

Q: Do U.S. veterans get free healthcare?

A: U.S. veterans do get some free healthcare through their VA health benefits, provided that the condition was caused or worsened by their military service. Health care needs that are non-service-related can be remedied through government programs like CHAMPVA, Medicare, or Medicaid. Additionally, many veterans may seek coverage through a private insurance company for convenient, comprehensive care.

Final thoughts

Military veterans have a lot of choices when it comes to health insurance. The U.S. government offers programs like CHAMPVA, TRICARE, and VA Health Care. Plus, your state’s insurance marketplace has a variety of private plans from which to choose. 

Still, healthcare is personal. There’s not a one-size-fits-all policy that is right for everyone. But by understanding your insurance options, you stand a better chance of finding coverage that works for you and your family.

Methodology

To choose the best health insurance companies for this list, the team at Task & Purpose looked at a large number of policies and products from various providers. We focused on cost, plan features and options, ease of use, customer service, and past customer ratings as the most important factors in our ratings. Learn more about our methodology in the Task & Purpose review guide