Navigating TRICARE When You Retire

by | Tricare | 1 comment

Transitioning into retirement marks a significant milestone in your life, especially when it comes to healthcare. If you’re a military retiree, understanding your Tricare benefits is crucial for ensuring you and your family remain covered. Navigating the shift from active duty to retired status can seem daunting, but with the right information, you’ll find that managing your healthcare can be straightforward.

Tricare offers a range of options tailored to meet the needs of retirees, ensuring you have access to quality healthcare without breaking the bank. Whether you’re concerned about prescription coverage, dental plans, or simply maintaining your health and wellness, Tricare has options designed to fit your lifestyle in retirement. Let’s dive into what you need to know about Tricare when you retire, so you can enjoy your retirement with one less thing to worry about.

Understanding TRICARE for Retirees

Transitioning into retirement marks a significant change in your health care coverage through TRICARE. As a retired service member, comprehending the nuances of TRICARE policies ensures you maintain uninterrupted, comprehensive health care for yourself and your dependents. This section covers eligibility, options, and enrollment periods, equipping you with the knowledge to navigate TRICARE as a retiree effectively.


To qualify for TRICARE as a retiree, you must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Retired service members
  • Retired Reserve members who are receiving retired pay
  • Medal of Honor recipients and their families
  • Certain former spouses

Family members, including spouses and children, are also covered under the retiree’s TRICARE plan.

TRICARE Options for Retirees

As a retiree, you have several TRICARE options:

  • TRICARE Prime: Available in certain geographical areas, offering primary care and referrals to specialists.
  • TRICARE Select: A fee-for-service option that allows more freedom in choosing providers.
  • TRICARE For Life: Acts as a Medicare wraparound coverage for retirees over age 65 with Medicare Parts A and B.
  • TRICARE Retired Reserve: Designed for retired Reserve members under age 60 who do not qualify for TRICARE Prime or Select.

Each option has its benefits, costs, and restrictions, tailored to fit various needs in retirement.

Enrollment and Costs

Enrolling in TRICARE as a retiree requires action on your part. Enrollment periods and procedures vary depending on the plan:

  • Initial enrollment can be done online, via phone, or by visiting a service center.
  • There are annual open enrollment periods and certain life events that may qualify you for special enrollment periods.
  • Costs vary by plan and include premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

Understanding the enrollment process and associated costs guarantees you make the most out of your TRICARE benefits in retirement. By staying informed and proactive about your health care coverage, you can ensure a smoother transition into retirement, keeping you and your family protected.

Enrollment and Eligibility

Transitioning into retirement involves reevaluating your healthcare coverage under TRICARE to ensure you and your dependents’ needs continue to be met. Navigating through enrollment and understanding eligibility criteria are crucial steps in maintaining comprehensive health care coverage during your retirement years.

Who’s Eligible?

Eligibility for retired military members encompasses several categories:

  • Retired service members from the Regular Services or the Reserve Component who are receiving retired pay.
  • Medal of Honor recipients and their families.
  • Retired Reserve members who are under 60 and not yet receiving retired pay.
  • Certain former spouses who have not remarried, under conditions specified by TRICARE.

Dependents of eligible retirees, including spouses and children up to age 26, can also receive coverage. Specific eligibility rules apply to them, ensuring a wide net of coverage.

  1. Determine the Right TRICARE Plan: Before you enroll, decide which TRICARE option suits your needs. TRICARE Prime, Select, For Life, and Retired Reserve are some options tailored for retirees.
  2. Initial Enrollment: After retiring, enroll during your initial enrollment period. Failure to enroll during this time can result in gaps in coverage.
  3. Annual Open Enrollment Period: If you miss the initial period, you can enroll or change plans during the annual open enrollment period or after a qualifying life event, like moving.
  4. Updating DEERS: Keep your information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) up to date. Accurate records in DEERS are crucial for eligibility and enrollment processing.

Cost considerations, including premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, vary by plan and should be closely reviewed as part of your decision-making process. By understanding eligibility and following the proper steps to enroll, you ensure that your transition into retirement includes secure and effective healthcare coverage for you and your family.

Costs and Coverage

Navigating TRICARE in retirement necessitates a thorough understanding of costs and coverage options to ensure you’re fully protected without any surprises. Depending on your selected plan, expenses and the extent of coverage can significantly vary.


TRICARE Prime offers a managed care option to retirees and their dependents, requiring enrollees to receive care from a primary care manager. This plan includes an annual enrollment fee, with the 2023 rates set at $320 for an individual and $640 for a family. Co-payments for visits and services are modest, generally ranging from $20 to $30.


Transitioning to TRICARE Select, retirees gain more flexibility, choosing their healthcare providers without referral requirements. This plan entails an annual enrollment fee as well, marked at $158 for individuals and $317 for families in 2023. Cost-shares and deductibles apply, varying based on the provider’s network status and the specific service.


For those who are Medicare-eligible, TRICARE For Life serves as a wraparound coverage, automatically activating upon enrollment in Medicare Part B. There are no enrollment fees, but Medicare Part B premiums are required. TRICARE For Life typically covers Medicare’s coinsurance and deductibles, offering extensive coverage with minimal out-of-pocket costs.

TRICARE Retired Reserve

Members of the Retired Reserve under age 60 may opt for TRICARE Retired Reserve, which includes a higher premium than other TRICARE options. The 2023 premiums are noted at $484.83 per month for an individual and $1,165 per month for family coverage. This plan also involves cost-shares and deductibles, similar to those in TRICARE Select.

By understanding the specific costs and coverage details of each TRICARE option, you can choose the best plan for your healthcare needs in retirement, ensuring both affordability and comprehensiveness. Be sure to review changes in costs and benefits during the annual open enrollment period or in response to significant life events, updating your plan as needed to maintain optimal coverage.

TRICARE and Medicare

Building on your understanding of TRICARE options as a retiree, it’s crucial to explore how TRICARE works with Medicare once you become eligible. Typically, at age 65 or under certain conditions earlier, you’re required to sign up for Medicare Part A and Part B to retain your TRICARE benefits. This integration ensures continued comprehensive coverage and may affect your choice of healthcare providers and services.

Enrollment in Medicare

Upon reaching eligibility, enrolling in Medicare Part A and Part B becomes essential. Medicare Part A covers hospital insurance, while Part B includes medical insurance. Failure to enroll during your initial eligibility period could result in a gap in your healthcare coverage and potential penalties.

TRICARE for Life (TFL)

After enrolling in both Medicare Part A and Part B, you automatically transition to TRICARE for Life (TFL). TFL acts as a secondary payer to Medicare, covering eligible expenses that Medicare does not fully cover. This includes certain deductibles, co-payments, and cost shares, providing a safety net that significantly reduces your out-of-pocket expenses.

Navigating Providers

With TFL, you gain the freedom to receive care from any authorized provider who accepts Medicare. This flexibility allows you to choose providers based on your personal health needs without network restrictions. However, seeing Medicare-participating providers minimizes your costs since they accept Medicare’s approved amount as full payment for covered services.

Pharmacy Benefits

Your pharmacy benefits also change slightly under TFL. You’ll continue to have access to the TRICARE Pharmacy Program, but Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) becomes optional. Evaluating your medication needs against the benefits of enrolling in Part D could save you money on prescription drugs.

Costs and Fees

While Medicare requires premium payments for Part B (and Part A if you haven’t paid Medicare taxes for a certain amount of time), TRICARE for Life does not have an enrollment fee. However, you’re responsible for Medicare Part B premiums, which are typically deducted from your Social Security benefits.

Understanding how TRICARE and Medicare work together ensures seamless healthcare coverage into retirement. It’s pivotal to enroll in Medicare timely and understand the benefits of TRICARE for Life alongside your Medicare coverage. Regular reviews of your coverage and staying informed about changes in Medicare and TRICARE policies help maintain optimum healthcare benefits during retirement.

Navigating Changes and Updates

Keeping abreast of the latest changes and updates in TRICARE after retirement is critical for maintaining continuous and comprehensive healthcare coverage. TRICARE undergoes periodic updates to its policies, coverage, and costs, impacting your benefits and out-of-pocket expenses. Regularly checking the TRICARE website, subscribing to newsletters, and attending information sessions can keep you informed about significant changes.

Stay Informed Through Official Sources

Access reliable information through official channels such as the TRICARE website, which provides detailed updates, changes to enrollment periods, and cost adjustments. Engage with TRICARE representatives directly for clarifications or questions about your specific situation.

Review Your Coverage Annually

Set a reminder to review your healthcare coverage annually. This practice ensures you’re aware of any changes in your benefits, premiums, or out-of-pocket expenses. An annual review also allows you to assess if your current plan still best meets your healthcare needs or if you should consider different TRICARE options or plans.

Understand the Impact of Medicare Changes

Given that TRICARE for Life acts as secondary coverage to Medicare, any updates to Medicare policies directly affect your TRICARE benefits. Stay updated on Medicare parts A and B for any changes in costs or benefits that might influence your healthcare strategy and expenses.

Engage with the TRICARE and Military Retiree Community

Join forums and community groups comprised of TRICARE beneficiaries and military retirees. These platforms can be a valuable source of shared experiences, tips on navigating the system, and updates from individuals who are in similar circumstances.

By adhering to these strategies, you’ll ensure a smoother transition into retirement with TRICARE, mitigate surprises related to healthcare coverage, and optimize your benefits to suit your post-retirement life. Regular engagement and proactive management of your healthcare enable you to focus on enjoying your retirement with the assurance that your healthcare needs are sufficiently covered.


Navigating your TRICARE benefits as you transition into retirement doesn’t have to be daunting. By staying informed and proactive, you’ll ensure your healthcare needs are met with minimal stress. Remember, the key is to engage with the resources available to you, be it through official TRICARE channels or the broader Military Retiree Community. By doing so, you’re not just securing your health coverage; you’re taking a vital step towards a peaceful and well-deserved retirement. Keep your coverage under review, especially as you approach Medicare eligibility, to continue enjoying comprehensive benefits. With the right approach, your transition to TRICARE for Life and beyond can be seamless, allowing you to focus on enjoying your retirement to the fullest.



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