By Matt Saintsing
A bill introduced in the Senate on Wednesday would end an unintentional policy that punishes some medically retired veterans who wish to use their Tricare coverage by charging them higher Medicaid fees.
The Health Equity and Access for Returning Troops and Service members (HEARTS) Act, introduced by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, would allow injured veterans returning to work to opt-out of Medicare while maintaining access to Tricare.
“Our veterans deserve every opportunity for a smooth transition back into civilian life,” Senator Ernst said in a statement. “The HEARTS Act gives medically retired service members returning to work access to the health care benefits they were originally entitled to, and have rightfully earned, after selflessly serving our country.”
Medically retired veterans are eligible to enroll in the Tricare health plan, a program offered to all uniformed services. If they are unable to work due to injuries sustained in the military, they can receive Social Security disability benefits.
Those unable to work become Medicare eligible after two years of disability payments. In order to keep Tricare, they must enroll in Medicare Part B.
Under current law, medically retired veterans returning to work lose their Social Security payments, but stay Medicare eligible for eight and a half years. It is because of this eligibility that they are required to pay the higher rates for their Tricare coverage for the duration of that time.
The HEARTS Act resolves this issue by allowing those returning to work to directly re-enroll in their Tricare plan of choice, after the Social Security benefits end by passing the higher Medicaid premiums.
A House version of this bill was introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson in April. It is cosponsored by Rep. Phil Roe, Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and it’s Ranking Member Rep. Tim Walz.