TRICARE for Military and Their Families

What's the difference between TRICARE and TRICARE FOR LIFE (TIF)? How does TRICARE operate for the Military and their families? Our expert explains below.

By Dr. Katy Votava, Ph.D.,RN

Retirement Daily Guest Contributor-Nov 28, 2022, 7:00 AM EST


TRICARE is healthcare insurance of the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System that provides health benefits for U.S. Armed Forces military personnel, some members of the Reserves, military retirees, and their dependents under 65 years of age, and not on Medicare. TRICARE brings together the healthcare resources of the Military Health System—such as military hospitals and clinics—with a network of civilian healthcare professionals, institutions, pharmacies, and suppliers.

To avoid confusion, it is important to know that TRICARE FOR LIFE (TIF) is a related but separate program for retired Military and their spouses who are on Medicare. For more information about TIF, check out my recent article Medicare and the Military: How to optimize Medicare for military veterans and retirees.

TRICARE offers a robust menu of health insurance coverages through a tiered structure. The tiers move from brackets with lower out-of-pocket costs for members using in-network healthcare professionals and organizations to higher-cost brackets for services from out-of-network care sources. TRICARE allows its members to use healthcare services within the Military Health System and community-based healthcare providers. As is always the case, members will get a bigger bang for their buck when using in-network providers. That's why people must compare their healthcare needs with those covered by TRICARE to decide if TRICARE meets their needs best.

There may be occasions when current or prospective TRICARE beneficiaries ought to evaluate other health coverage options to determine if there is a more suitable alternative. For example, a spouse may have access to a more suitable and cost-effective employer health plan than a TRICARE plan.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans might provide alternatives. Now is the time to examine those offerings to decide if a more suitable health plan exists. ACA annual enrollment is open Nov. 1, 2022, and ends Jan. 15, 2023. Applications filed by Dec. 15, 2022, have a 1/1/23 start date. Those who apply between 12/16/22 and 1/15/23 will have a 2/1/23 effective date.

Medicaid and Child Health Plus might work for some military families to provide more cost-effective healthcare than TRICARE. Medicaid and Child Health Plus are income-related health insurance plans administered at the state and local levels. Folks can get more information about those options by contacting their state health department.

For more TRICARE information and to determine which regional office covers you call 866-773-0404 or visit

For more ACA plan information, call 1-800-318-2596 or visit

Also, read Preview 2023 TRICARE Health Plan Costs.

Read this article on The Street website

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