How Do I Get Tricare When We Go Guard?

Georgia National Guard salute
Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard salute during a welcome home ceremony held at Fort Stewart, Ga., last April. (Georgia National Guard photo/Shye Wilborn)

My husband is getting out of the active-duty Air Force at the beginning of next month. The next day, he is signing into his new National Guard unit.

He is not involuntarily separating from the military, so he does not automatically have Tricare transitional health care coverage. A Tricare representative told me that if we buy Tricare Reserve Select, it won't kick in until the first day of the following month, leaving us without health insurance for almost 30 days.

Tricare's fact sheet about this is confusing me, and I don't think we qualify for the transitional health care under any of the things it lists. It talks a lot about "reserve component," not National Guard.

Is that us? Am I going to have to pay $3,000 to have Tricare's continued health plan coverage for those months?

When we asked around trying to find an answer to your question, what we found was near universal confusion on this subject. So we hit up Tricare to sort the whole thing out.

Here's how it works: If your service member is going from active duty straight into the "Selected Reserve," what we typically think of as traditional Guard or Reserve, without any break in service, he and all of his dependents qualify for the Tricare transition program, known as TAMP.

TAMP gives you 180 days of Tricare Standard coverage exactly like you had while on active duty. If you want that coverage to be Tricare Prime instead, you need to call your Tricare region and ask to switch to Prime. When you get to the point that TAMP is about to run out, you can apply for Tricare Reserve Select (TRS).

Here's the trick with TRS: That coverage kicks in on the first of the month after you ask for it. That means if your TAMP runs out in mid-October, for example, you'll want to apply for TRS in September so that you can have it as soon as TAMP ends. Yes, that means you'll have double coverage for part of October, but it's better to pay a little out of pocket then have a gap in coverage.

Now, let's say your husband does have a break in his service. If he gets out of the Air Force on Aug. 1, for example, and doesn't start his Guard service until Aug. 15, he is not eligible for TAMP. If that happens, you will want to buy a continued health plan or purchase coverage for one month on the health care marketplace.

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