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For Rural Veterans, Medicare Advantage Is a Gift

Veterans everywhere—but especially rural veterans—have good reason to be happy when they blow out the candles on their 65th birthday. Now they can apply for either Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan.

About 25% of veterans in the U.S. live in a rural community and drive many miles for their health care. For example, the closest VA medical facility for veterans living in Hollis, Alaska, is more than 1,000 miles away!

The VA has done solid work by opening community health centers that offer telemedicine and even primary care home visits for its rural veterans. But the VA also encourages veterans who turn 65 to sign up for Medicare .

Why Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage?

We all like having more choices, whether it's the flavor of our birthday cake or where we go out to celebrate.

When veterans sign up for Original Medicare, in most cases they can go to any Medicare-enrolled doctor, health care provider, hospital, or other facility that accepts Medicare patients anywhere in the U.S. Plus, they still get to keep their VA benefits.

When joining a Medicare Advantage plan, in many cases, members can only use doctors and other providers who are in the plan's network and service area (for non-emergency care). Some plans offer non-emergency coverage out of network, but typically at a higher cost.

For rural veterans, this is an incredible gift. Instead of driving long distances for care at a VA medical center or pharmacy, they can get their care and prescriptions just down the road. A search for primary care doctors accepting Medicare near Hollis, Alaska, finds three who are just 22 miles away from the center of town.

For veterans struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse, or cancer — easy access could be lifechanging.

What About Cost?

By enrolling in Medicare Advantage, veterans may be able to access coverage with a low or no monthly premium. Most Medicare Advantage plans cover extras like dental, hearing, and vision care, and telehealth. Some plans may also cater specifically to veterans and provide concierge services.

The Rural Advantage

According to the VA's Office of Rural Health, it's estimated that 58% of rural veterans depend on VA benefits — much higher than the 38% enrollment rate for veterans who live in a city. Of these:

  • 55% are older than 65
  • 44% earn less than $35,000 a year
  • 27% don't have at-home internet, which is necessary for telemedicine access
  • 58% have at least one service-connected condition

These rural veterans may benefit most from Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage since:

  • Part A (Original Medicare) covers care at non-VA hospitals
  • Part B (Original Medicare) may pay for services not covered by VA benefits, allows use of non-VA doctors, and could lower out-of-pocket costs
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage) may cover more services than VA benefits and could cost less than Original Medicare
  • Part D (prescription drug plan) covers prescriptions at non-VA pharmacies, possibly at a lower copay

Veterans who choose Original Medicare can also sign up for a Medigap policy. It helps cover the remaining out-of-pocket costs of Medicare (like the 20% coinsurance).

Why the VA Recommends Medicare

According to the VA's own website , all veterans should sign up for Medicare when they're eligible because:

  • You have more options to choose from
  • Funding for VA health care could change in the future
  • If you delay signing up for Medicare Part B, you'll pay a penalty if you lose your VA benefits and want to sign up later for Medicare (you'll pay this penalty every year for the rest of your life)
  • Signing up for Medicare drug coverage lets you fill prescriptions at non-VA pharmacies

Make It a Gift to Yourself

Remember, if you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes while working for at least 40 quarters (ten years), you're eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A. Which means you earned the right to choose Medicare when you turn 65 and enjoy its benefits. So, don't wait. Call one of our licensed insurance agents today.

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MR829 4/2023