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Second Opinion: Does Obamacare Impact My Military Benefits?

Second Opinion: Does Obamacare Impact My Military Benefits

Video by John Rosman

Dan Mathews, a Vietnam veteran wants to know whether the Affordable Care Act will affect his TRICARE health benefits.

A Vietnam veteran wants to know whether the Affordable Care Act will affect his TRICARE health benefits.

Second Opinion is a weekly Q-and-A series that answers questions from San Diegans on the Affordable Care Act. Ask yours here.

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The Question: Will the Affordable Care Act affect TRICARE health benefits for retired military personnel?

Dan Mathews retired from the Marines in 2000. He served three tours of duties in Vietnam, where a bunker strike caused him to have periodic seizures.

It's a condition he still struggles with – the wrong medicine put him into a three-day seizure awhile back – so consistency in his medical care is really important to him.

"I have a doctor I trust and I don't want the Affordable Care Act to interfere with anything that's going on right now," Mathews said.

Mathews is covered by the military health plan, TRICARE. Here's his question:

"I'm retired military and I'm wondering, with the Affordable Care Act, how will my benefits be affected?"

The Takeaway: Military benefits won't change much.

Though not mentioned in the original Affordable Care Act language, subsequent legislation dictates that TRICARE provides the minimum level of care required under the health reform law and does not have to change.

It's also exempt from Obamacare's requirement that insurers cover dependent children until they're 26 years old. The children of current and former military personnel will continue to lose their parent's coverage at 21 if they're not attending school, and at 23 if they are.

But legislation unrelated to ACA added the TRICARE Young Adult Plan, which allows dependents who have aged out of their parents' plans to purchase coverage. Premiums are less than $200 a month.

The Affordable Care Act has had a similar effect on the Veterans Affairs health system. Its benefits won't change due to the law. The extension for dependents also doesn't apply to the VA's dependent coverage, the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA).

The Orders: Stay informed.

Military personnel – retired or not – don't have to worry too much about changes to their health benefits. But a good rule of thumb during the ramp-up to 2014 is to keep opening envelopes from your insurance provider. Stay informed and ask questions.

Check out last week's Second Opinion: Is it cheaper to pay the fine than to offer health coverage?

If you have a question about the Affordable Care Act, ask it at kpbs.org/aca.

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