Benefits Of Former Military Spouses Part Three: Continued Health Care Benefit Program
In Parts One and Two of this series, we looked at the requirements a former spouse must meet to retain medical coverage through the Tricare program. A 20/20/20 spouse would be eligible for lifetime coverage under Tricare (in addition to other benefits), while a 20/20/15 spouse would be eligible for transitional Tricare coverage for one year. Former spouses who do not qualify as at least 20/20/15 spouses are not eligible for Tricare coverage at all, but they are not left without options.
The Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP), enacted in 10 U.S.C. 1078a, is available for former spouses who cannot qualify for Tricare coverage under the 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 Rules. The CHCBP offers a COBRA-style program that allows any former spouses who were covered under Tricare on the day before entry of a final divorce decree to pay for continued medical coverage. There is no minimum required length of marriage to enroll in CHCBP, nor is there a minimum required length of creditable service time.
The CHCBP is not the same as Tricare, but the services available are similar. The most significant potential benefits of coverage under the CHCBP are the guaranteed offer of coverage if no other coverage (such as employer coverage) is available, and the continued coverage for an individual with preexisting conditions that could complicate private insurance coverage.
There are two coverage options under the CHCBP: transitional coverage and unlimited coverage. Transitional coverage is available to any former spouse meeting the above requirements for a period of 36 months. Additional requirements must be met to qualify for unlimited coverage: the former spouse must not have remarried before the age of 55; the former spouse must have been enrolled as a dependent in an approved health care benefits program (Tricare, DEERS, CHCBP) at any point in time during the 18 months before the end of the marriage; and the former spouse must be receiving a share of the servicemember’s military retired pay or Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity, OR have a court order for the payment of any portion of the servicemember’s military retired pay, OR have a written agreement providing for an SBP annuity for the former spouse. If all of these conditions are met, the former spouse will be eligible to keep medical coverage through the CHCBP indefinitely.
These requirements for unlimited coverage are commonly met in many military divorce cases; however, it is far from guaranteed that every former spouse will qualify. Should a party agree to receive spousal support in lieu of a division of military retirement, for example, he or she would fail to meet the CHCBP requirements for unlimited coverage. Further, remarriage will terminate CHCBP coverage if it occurs before the former spouse reaches the age of 55.
If you do not qualify for Tricare coverage as a 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 former spouse, it is imperative that you enroll in the CHCBP as soon as possible after your divorce is final. An individual must enroll within 60 days of losing Tricare coverage in order to participate in the CBCBP. Failure to do so will in almost all cases result in an inability to enroll and the loss of potential coverage for preexisting conditions or even coverage at all.
If you are a military servicemember or spouse contemplating separation and divorce, the substance of your divorce will play a significant role in the former spouse’s ability to obtain medical insurance coverage. Without careful consideration of the rules and requirements of the CHCBP, you may inadvertently remove the potential for continued medical insurance coverage.
The military divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C., have extensive experience with the unique issues that arise in military divorce, including former spouse benefits. We represent clients in Manassas, Fredericksburg, Fairfax, and throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.