One of the most frequently addressed concerns that I encounter from divorce clients is the need for continued healthcare coverage after divorce. Military spouses, unlike their civilian counterpart, are uniquely situated for healthcare benefits even after divorce under certain circumstances. This article will address continued healthcare coverage and types of healthcare available to military spouses subsequent to divorce.
What is Tricare? Most non-military divorce attorneys have heard of Tricare, but are not familiar with or are unaware of the types of coverage that Tricare provides to Servicemembers and their families. Tricare, formerly known as CHAMPUS (the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services), is the healthcare system administered by the United States Department of Defense which provides healthcare coverage to active duty and retired Servicemembers and their families. Depending on the Servicemember’s status, i.e., active duty enlisted, reserve component, or National Guard, the cost of healthcare and types of coverage available to the Servicemember and their family will vary.
As with any divorce, once the divorce decree is entered, the military spouse is no longer considered a dependent and Tricare coverage can be lost. Although the former spouse is not considered a dependent of the Servicemember for health insurance purposes once divorced, the former spouse can continue to receive the same coverage as though the parties were married under certain circumstances.
When are former spouses eligible for continued coverage? There are two scenarios in which a former military spouse may remain eligible for continued coverage under Tricare subsequent to divorce:
The “20/20/20” Rule: In order for a former spouse to maintain coverage under Tricare after divorce, the Servicemember spouse must have served twenty years of creditable service, the parties must have been married for twenty years, and the twenty years of marriage must overlap the Servicemember’s twenty years of service. If these three criteria are met, the former spouse will qualify for healthcare benefits under Tricare for the remainder of his or her life. When eligible under the 20/20/20 rule, the former spouse will receive the same healthcare coverage as if he or she had remained married to the Servicemember.
The 20/20/15 Rule: Much like the “20/20/20” rule, the 20/20/15 rule simply replaces the requirement that twenty years of the parties’ marriage overlap twenty years of military service. Rather, only fifteen of the twenty marital years must overlap military service.
However, the difference between the two rules differ greatly. Under the former 20/20/20 rule, if the requirements have been met, the former spouse will continue to receive the same benefits as if the parties had not divorced for the remainder of the former spouse’s life. Under the 20/20/15 rule, the former spouse will only be eligible for continued coverage for one year following entry of the divorce decree. Regardless of which category applies to the former spouse, Tricare eligibility will be lost if the former spouse remarries or otherwise obtains independent healthcare coverage through an employer sponsored program.
In the event your client does not qualify for continued coverage under the above two rules, all is not lost. The Continued Health Care Benefit Program (or CHCBP) is a program offered through Humana Military at cost to the former spouse once the former spouse loses Tricare eligibility.
CHCBP is intended to temporarily provide healthcare benefits to former spouses after loss of Tricare coverage. CHCBP offers healthcare coverage similar to that received under Tricare, but is typically only available for eighteen to thirty-six months following entry of the divorce decree. Unlike the rules above, there is no requirement that the parties have been married for a specified period of time. However, it is important to note that the former spouse must purchase CHCBP within sixty days after loss of Tricare coverage.
In certain circumstances, however, CHCBP is available to a former spouse indefinitely. For this to apply, the former spouse must have an interest in the Servicemember’s pension. For example, if John and Jane divorce, and Jane receives a portion of John’s military retired pay upon John’s retirement, then Jane would be eligible for continued healthcare through CHCBP. Similarly, if Jane is listed as “former spouse” on John’s Survivor Benefit Plan, Jane is an annuitant and has the ability to receive CHCBP indefinitely. (Note: A portion of John’s military retired pay is paid into the Survivor Benefit Plan each month, and therefore Jane is a recipient of a portion of John’s retired pay which creates the continued eligibility).
How Do Former Spouses Apply for Continued Coverage? In order for the former spouse to continue receiving Tricare benefits, he or she must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibilty Reporting System (DEERS). The sponsor (or former Service member spouse) must update their DEERS account with a copy of the Divorce Decree. Once the DEERS office determines eligibility of the former spouse, the former spouse will receive his or her own identification card for continued coverage.