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What Is Tricare for Life?

By Steve Gross ; Updated September 26, 2017

TRICARE for Life (TFL) fulfills a promise made to those veterans, now retired, that the United States would provide for their health care after retirement for the duration of their lives. TFL health care serves approximately the same functions as other secondary health care policies, such as those provided by business and industry to retired employees. If you are a military retiree approaching age 65 and you do not thoroughly understand the transition you will make from TRICARE to TRICARE for Life, you should take time now to learn all you can about TFL and Medicare Parts A and B.


TRICARE for Life represents the military's solution to providing its retirees with lifetime health care benefits and is analogous to other secondary health insurance plans that "backstop" Medicare. TFL provides additional coverage for some of the personal costs of Original Medicare (such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles). In addition, TFL covers some costs that Medicare does not. The government introduced TRICARE for Life in 2001. Prior to that time, TRICARE coverage for military retirees and their families and survivors ended at age 65. Losing TRICARE, forced retirees to purchase and pay for a Medigap plan, or to depend exclusively on Medicare.

Now, when TRICARE beneficiaries enter (purchase) Medicare Part B at age 65, there is no break in their TRICARE coverage.


The Federal government makes TFL available to all Medicare-eligible military retirees--including those from the reserve components receiving retired pay--family members and survivors, as they become Medicare eligible.

Dependent parents and parents-in-law may continue to receive services on a space-available basis in military treatment facilities and may receive TRICARE Senior Pharmacy benefits, but are not otherwise eligible for TRICARE benefits.


TFL requires no enrollment fees. With the exception of active duty family members, eligible beneficiaries must purchase Medicare Part B and pay the monthly premiums. See References, below, for more information about Social Security and Medicare or call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.


When you receive medical services, the provider bills Medicare. Medicare pays its part of the bill and forwards the remainder to TRICARE for Life. TFL pays some of, or the entire remaining, debit. You will receive appropriate paperwork from both Medicare and TFL regarding payments made on your behalf and any amounts you may still owe the provider.

For services covered by TFL, but not by Medicare (for example, overseas care), TFL provides the coverage of TRICARE Standard. If neither Medicare nor TRICARE cover the service in question, you will be responsible for the bill.


If you are military retiree age 65 or older and have only Medicare Part A, you can sign up for Medicare Part B during the "general enrollment period" (January 1 to March 31 yearly). Your Medicare Part B coverage will begin on July 1 following your enrollment.

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