Tricare for College Students: How Long Can Children Remain on Your Tricare Policy?

smiling girl college student

As we all know, Tricare is an amazingly important part of the overall military benefits package. I just had to estimate how much Tricare saved my family, including my college students, in the last year, and I was shocked -- six figures shocked.

But as we all know, Tricare is not perfect. There can be challenges to getting the care you need, billing errors are hard to fix, and, because it's not health insurance and is exempt from the Affordable Care Act rules, it isn't required to keep kids on their parent's policy until age 26. And the way that unfolds is confusing to a lot of people.

Tricare Options Over Age 21

Under Tricare, children remain eligible for coverage under their parent's Tricare coverage until they turn 21. They may receive a letter in the mail reminding them of that, but don't count on it. It's their responsibility to know that this is happening, and take the appropriate actions. If they don't take any action, they'll be off the rolls the month of their birthday.

Then, if they are a full-time student (at any level), they can extend their coverage until they turn 23.

Then, once they reach the threshold of age 21 and are not in school, or 23 regardless of school enrollment, they may find their own health insurance or choose to purchase Tricare Young Adult coverage until they turn 26.

Tricare for College Students: Staying on Tricare as a Full-Time Student

Full-time students who want to extend their Tricare eligibility need to have their status updated in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, commonly known as DEERS. This will require an enrollment letter from the school, stating their full-time enrollment.

The process requires the sponsor parent to complete and sign a DD form 1172 Application for Identification Card/DEERS Enrollment, and the student child should get a new military identification card, as their old one will expire on their 21st birthday. Thankfully, these do not always have to be done together and in-person. The sponsor can provide the form to their DEERS office, and the child can get a new ID at a location more convenient to them. Also, the student's Tricare coverage remains in force as long as the DEERS record is accurate, even if their ID is not updated.

Staying On Tricare via the Tricare Young Adult Program

If your young adult is not a full-time student, they may choose to obtain their own health insurance or they may be eligible for coverage under the Tricare Young Adult program. A person is eligible for Tricare Young Adult if they are:

  • A dependent of a Tricare-eligible uniformed service sponsor
  • At least age 21 but not yet 26 years old.
  • Unmarried
  • Not eligible to enroll in an employer-sponsored health plan based on your own employment
  • Not otherwise eligible for Tricare coverage

Tricare Young Adult has a monthly premium based upon the chosen plan (Prime or Select) and deductibles and co-payments based upon the sponsor's status (active duty or retired) and whether the provider is at a Military Treatment Facility, an in-network civilian provider, an out-of-network civilian provider, or a non-participating provider. Tricare Prime is an option available to active duty family members, and retiree family members who live in a Tricare Prime service area. All other beneficiaries must use Tricare Select.

Eligible beneficiaries may enroll in Tricare Young Adult online or through their regional Tricare contractor. Enrollment requires two months of premiums to be paid up-front, by credit or debit card or by check.

Tricare for Incapacitated Adults

The third way that kids can remain on Tricare after age 21 is if they have developmental, mental, or physical health issues that make them unable to support themselves. These military dependents must apply and be approved as a secondary dependent based on their inability to care for themselves.

Keeping young adults on Tricare after they turn 21 requires some actions, whether to update their DEERS status, enroll in Tricare Young Adult, or establish their status as an incapacitated adult. Taking these simple steps will ensure that they have uninterrupted health care coverage.

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