How to Select the Right TRICARE Plan for Your College Student

Feature Article - TRICARE for College Students-550x350

As we approach the end of summer, many military families are looking ahead to an important milestone: sending a child off to college for the first time. In between registering for classes and stocking up on dorm essentials, it’s important to think about your child’s TRICARE coverage to make sure they can access care if and when they need it.

The good news is that military kids are eligible for TRICARE until they turn 21, or 23 if they are enrolled in college. However, there are a few issues to consider to ensure their transition to college goes as smoothly as possible.

What to Know About TRICARE Plans

The first question you may ask yourself is which TRICARE plan is right for your child: TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select. Many military families prefer TRICARE Prime because it has the lowest out-of-pocket costs, especially if you receive care at a military installation. However, TRICARE Prime assigns each beneficiary a Primary Care Manager, or PCM, and requires referrals from the PCM in order to receive specialty care. If your child is enrolled in Prime, make sure to talk to their PCM to ensure they are able to refer them to specialty care near their college or university if necessary.

It’s also important to consider the location of your child’s school. TRICARE Prime is only available in certain areas of the country, called Prime Service Areas, mostly in locations near military installations. TRICARE’s Plan Finder will help you determine if your child’s school is located in a Prime Service Area.

Depending on the location of the school and proximity to your child’s PCM, you may find that TRICARE Select is a better option. TRICARE Select does not require a referral for care, so it offers more flexibility. While you will pay annual deductibles and cost shares, you can save money by seeking care at network providers. Changing your child’s address in DEERS to their college address is considered a Qualifying Life Event (QLE) and allows you to switch their TRICARE plan.

Whichever option you choose, keep in mind that your child’s TRICARE eligibility ends when they reach 23 or graduate from college, whichever comes first. At that point, if you want to extend your child’s TRICARE coverage you will have the option of enrolling them in TRICARE Young Adult.

Visit for more information about your family’s health coverage options. Have questions or comments? Share your story below!

By: Eileen Huck, Government Relations Senior Deputy Director