In our ongoing series of retirement lessons, today we’ll be talking about healthcare. For the last 21 years, the DOD healthcare system is something that my family and I have frequently taken advantage of, but never truly appreciated.
First some background. For many years, my wife was on EFMP due to asthma issues after several trips to the ER. Years later, my youngest son, Luke, was born and was quickly placed in EFMP, also for asthma. Over the 8 years of his life, he’s been admitted to the hospital for a total of about 3 weeks or so, and been in the ER more times than I can count. Also, he’s had his appendix removed.
The point is, my family and I have been frequent users of Tricare, and never had to think about it. Outside of paying for their prescriptions at the local pharmacy, we haven’t paid a dime. About 5 years ago when we got to Fort Meade, things changed slightly. For some reason in the Baltimore/DC region, they offer families the chance to use commercial hospitals through the US Family Healthcare plan. This is different from Tricare Select. In fact, they are still on Prime but use Johns Hopkins facilities for all of their medical needs. This has been great for them since they have gotten outstanding healthcare, and it still hasn’t cost me a dime.
Fast-forward to retirement time. I have been waiting a long time for when I could use something besides Tricare. Fortunately, because we were staying in the Meade area, not only can my family still use Johns Hopkins, but now I can too (still as Tricare Prime). This brought up some problems I hadn’t anticipated.
My original plan was to get my retirement ID card when I started my terminal leave (about 60 days before my actual retirement date). When I showed up to my appointment, it was brought up that if I did that, there would be a gap between when my active duty healthcare stopped, and when my retirement healthcare started. This would affect not only me but my family as well. In a normal world, this wouldn’t be a huge deal (we’re only talking a few weeks), but then I take into account my son’s health problems, not to mention were in the time of Covid, and that equation changes significantly. Now I will preface this by saying that what the person at the ID card place didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and I wasn’t able to confirm it as well as I would have liked to, but better safe than sorry. So I decided to wait a few weeks until just before my actual retirement date to get my new ID card and change healthcare.
My original idea was not to use VA healthcare at all. After finally getting away from Tricare, I couldn’t figure out why I would want to go right into it again. After some thinking though, I decided I wouldn’t stick to that. I am still making Johns Hopkins my primary care provider, but I’ve decided to use VA for my chronic medical stuff like sleep apnea and some medications that I take.
To do that, it means going through VA and doing some exams (not related to disability). That means doing my initial appointment with my VA doctor, as well as blood work and some other things. Not too much of a pain, considering that now I will get all of my medications in the mail every 90 days and it doesn’t cost me a dime.
This brought up another timing problem though. I use CPAP which requires that I regularly change out things like the filter and other things. While I was on active duty, supplies were taken care of through a medical supplier through Tricare. The supplier I used doesn’t support VA, and I couldn’t use their supplier until after I did my first appointment. Fortunately, I had enough supplies to keep me going during the transition. Unfortunately for a friend of mine though who is also recently transitioning, there was a time where he had to actually pay for his CPAP machine himself has he transitioned from Tricare to VA.
Moral of the Story
So the moral of the story (like most of these have been) is to be prepared. Realize that there is absolutely a transition when it comes to your (and your family) healthcare. If you are staying with Tricare Prime, then it’s likely pretty seamless, but if you are going to private insurance or something like that, it needs to be planned out. On top of that, VA coverage doesn’t cover you right off the bat.