• Article
  • May 17, 2017

How Medicaid Covers Military Families

In connection with their service to our nation, members of the military and their families are covered through the Department of Defense health plan known as TRICARE. This program, which might not sound familiar if you're outside of the military community, provides for most health care needs of the adults and children on it. However, similar to private insurance, TRICARE doesn't meet families' needs in every situation.

The reality is, there are thousands of military families across the country who rely on a better-known program to help meet the health care needs of their children: Medicaid. More than 30 million children from all backgrounds in the United States are covered by Medicaid, including military families.

When Medicaid helps military families cover kids

  • Transitions: While recent veterans are eligible for Veterans Health Administration (VA) health care, those without employer-sponsored coverage may rely on Medicaid for their families who no longer have TRICARE and are not covered by the VA.
  • Secondary insurer: Medicaid serves as a second payer to cover benefits that TRICARE, tied directly to Medicare fashioned for adults age 65 and above, does not comprehensively provide for kids.
  • Waiver services: Medicaid waivers provide crucial services like home care for those with special needs when those services aren't covered by TRICARE.
  • Complex Conditions: For approximately 200,000 military children, Medicaid is required as a stable source of coverage for some of the most comprehensive and complex care that commercial and TRICARE plans do not cover.

Kids from military families will be hurt by AHCA

The American Health Care Act (AHCA), recently passed by the U.S. House and currently under consideration in the Senate, contains more than $800 billion in cuts for Medicaid. Children in the program, under the current draft, aren't insulated from these cuts—this includes kids from military families. Less funding will force states to make hard choices, and there are currently no guarantees that care for kids will be preserved.

In addition to simply having less money to fund the care they need, the cut could hurt kids in military families in other ways:

  • Pediatric infrastructure problems: Many military kids rely on care from the same civilian providers that take care of the roughly 36 million children enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. If that civilian infrastructure is compromised, it will exacerbate the health care access challenges military children already face as a result of their mobile lives.
  • Longer waiver waits: Because the demand for waiver services far outstrips the supply, most states already have lengthy waitlists to receive assistance. Unfortunately, these services are too often out of reach for mobile military families who have to start over at the bottom of the waitlist each time they move to a new state. These already too long waits are likely to grow longer if the version of the AHCA passed by the House becomes law. This could mean more kids from military families missing out on crucial benefits they need.

Hear it in their own words

The Speak Now for Kids community, in honor of Military Appreciation Month, is posting a series of blogs from mothers in military families who rely on Medicaid to help meet the needs of a child with medical complexity. These stories underline a crucial point in the health care debate—Medicaid for children must be safeguarded for the more than 30 million kids across the nation who count on it.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.