What You Need to Know About VA Health Care Benefits and Private Insurance Coverage

Chelsy Meyer  | 

It’s frustrating to be confused on a topic as important as health insurance coverage. When you’re dealing with expensive medical bills and coverage questions, it’s important to understand what type of coverage you need and what type of coverage you have. For military veterans, there is an entirely new layer of questions associated with VA benefits and how those interact with private insurance plans. Can you have both VA health care and a private insurance plan? Do you need both? Where can you get private insurance in addition to your VA benefits? Luckily, those questions all have answers.

Can You Have Private Health Insurance and VA?

The short and sweet answer to this question is yes, you can have both private health insurance as well as VA benefits. Things like private insurance and Medicare are complementary to veterans benefits, so you don’t have to choose one over the other. VA health care is a benefit and not insurance, so you won’t have to worry about cancelling one and accepting the other instead. It’s a benefit designed to coexist with your other health care providers, so having insurance already will not affect whether you can receive care at a VA facility or get help with medical bills related to service injuries. In reality, many veterans receive VA health care, Medicare, and maintain a private insurance plan. You are allowed to have all three and it will not affect your ability to qualify. In fact, there are many scenarios in which having more than one will benefit you.

Do Veterans With VA Benefits Need Private Health Insurance?

Veterans with VA benefits are not required to get private health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, your VA health coverage meets the requirements of having “minimum essential health coverage.” So you are not required to have private health insurance on top of your VA benefits. However, it might be something to consider. For instance, the VA does cover emergencies as long as you fall within their guidelines for coverage, but they generally require that all health care be provided in a VA facility. With Medicare or your own private insurance, coverage in an emergency situation or outside of a VA hospital won’t be a concern for you.

It may be cheaper for you to not pay for private health insurance, but there are a few reasons to have both. It’s also a good idea to have private insurance for any family members and dependents if they don’t qualify for VA benefits. The VA states that they aren’t sure Congress will provide enough funding in future years for them to care for all veterans who are signed up for VA health care. If you’re in one of the lower priority groups, you could lose your VA health care benefits in the future. If you don’t keep your private insurance, this would leave you with no coverage.

For Medicare, if you cancel it you won’t be able to get it back until January of the following year. While veterans don’t require private insurance along with their VA benefits, it can be helpful to have both. Going without insurance can potentially leave you vulnerable to the full cost of treatment, and subject to all the billing, collections, and lasting financial damage that comes with it.

Where Can Veterans Get Private Health Insurance?

If you’d like to combine your VA benefits with private health insurance, there are a few ways you can go to receive extra assistance.

  • Through an Employer: Many employers offer health insurance plans for employees. This is a pretty common way to be insured. Whether you are insured through your own employer, or through a spouse’s employer, you can obtain health insurance in addition to your VA benefits. For military members, TRICARE would be the most commonly used insurance provided through the military.
  • With State Exchanges or Individual Markets: Health insurance marketplaces, or state exchanges, are organizations in each state where people can purchase private health insurance. It’s an option for those that don’t have employer health insurance.
  • Qualifying for Medicare and Medicaid: Medicare and Medicaid are social insurance programs. Medicare is an option for those 65 and older or have a severe disability without a consideration of income. Medicaid is a program that provides health coverage for those with a very low income. You can be eligible for both.

VA benefits, though they are not insurance, can be considered as meeting the minimum required health care coverage to cover Affordable Care Act requirements. For some veterans, it’s enough. However, others may require additional coverage. Fortunately, it’s perfectly fine to double (or even triple) up on insurance coverage. Whether you go through an employer, go through an insurance marketplace, or qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, there are ways to find an insurance option that complements your VA benefits.


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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5

This post was updated November 10, 2017. It was originally published November 13, 2017.