Medicare Q & A


What is Medicare?

Medicare is our country’s health insurance program for people age 65 or older. Certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, too, including those who have disabilities and those who have permanent kidney failure or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The program helps with the cost of health care, but it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care.

Medicare is financed by a portion of the payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers. It also is financed in part by monthly premiums deducted from Social Security checks.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the agency in charge of the Medicare program. But you apply for Medicare at Social Security, and we can give you general information about the Medicare program.

Medicare has four parts

Hospital insurance (Part A) that helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (following a hospital stay), some home health care and hospice care.

Medical insurance (Part B) that helps pay for doctors’ services and many other medical services and supplies that are not covered by hospital insurance.

Medicare Advantage (Part C) formerly known as Medicare + Choice plans are available in many areas. People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to receive all of their health care services through one of these provider organizations under Part C.

Prescription drug coverage (Part D) that helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment.

You can get more detailed information about what Medicare covers by reading Medicare & You

Who Is Eligible for Medicare Parts A through D?

Hospital insurance (Part A)

Most people age 65 or older who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States are eligible for free Medicare hospital insurance (Part A). You are eligible at age 65 if:

  • You receive or are eligible to receive Social Security benefits; or
  • You receive or are eligible to receive railroad retirement benefits; or
  • You or your spouse (living or deceased, including divorced spouses) worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid; or
  • You are the dependent parent of someone who worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid.

If you do not meet these requirements, you may be able to get Medicare hospital insurance by paying a monthly premium. Usually, you can sign up for this hospital insurance only during designated enrollment periods.

Medical insurance (Part B)

Anyone who is eligible for free Medicare hospital insurance (Part A) can enroll in Medicare medical insurance (Part B) by paying a monthly premium.

If you are not eligible for free hospital insurance, you can buy medical insurance, without having to buy hospital insurance, if you are age 65 or older and you are—

  • A U.S. citizen; or
  • A lawfully admitted noncitizen who has lived in the U.S. for at least five years.

Medicare Advantage plans (Part C)

If you have Medicare Parts A and B, you can join a Medicare Advantage (formerly Medicare + Choice) plan. With one of these plans, you do not need a Medigap policy, because Medicare Advantage plans generally cover many of the same benefits that a Medigap policy would cover, such as extra days in the hospital after you have used the number of days that Medicare covers.

Medicare Advantage plans include:

  • Medicare managed care plans;
  • Medicare preferred provider organization (PPO) plans;
  • Medicare private fee-for-service plans; andMedicare specialty plans.

If you decide to join a Medicare Advantage plan, you use the health card that you get from your Medicare Advantage plan provider for your health care. Also, you might have to pay a monthly premium for your Medicare Advantage plan because of the extra benefits it offers.

People who become newly entitled to Medicare can enroll during their initial enrollment period or during the annual coordinated election period from November 15 – December 31 each year. There also will be special enrollment periods for some situations.

Medicare prescription drug plans (Part D)

Anyone who has Medicare hospital insurance (Part A), medical insurance (Part B) or a Medicare Advantage plan is eligible for prescription drug coverage (Part D). Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and you pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage. You can wait to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan if you have other prescription drug coverage but, if you don’t have prescription coverage that is, on average, at least as good as Medicare prescription drug coverage, you will pay a penalty if you wait to join later. You will have to pay this penalty for as long as you have Medicare prescription drug coverage.

The initial open enrollment period is between November 15 and May 15. People who become newly entitled to Medicare should enroll during their initial enrollment period. After the initial enrollment periods, the annual coordinated election period, to enroll or make provider changes will be November 15 – December 31 each year. There also will be special enrollment periods for some situations.

Signing up for Medicare

When should I apply?

If you are already getting Social Security retirement or disability benefits or railroad retirement checks, you will be contacted a few months before you become eligible for Medicare and given the information you need. You will be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B automatically. However, because you must pay a premium for Part B coverage, you have the option of turning it down.

If you are not already getting retirement benefits, you should contact Social Security about three months before your 65th birthday to sign up for Medicare. You can sign up for Medicare even if you do not plan to retire at age 65.

Once you are enrolled in Medicare, you will receive a red, white and blue Medicare card showing whether you have Part A, Part B or both. Keep your card in a safe place so you will have it when you need it. If your card is ever lost or stolen, you can apply for a replacement card on the Internet at Social Security or call Social Security’s toll-free number. You will also receive a Medicare & You (Publication No. CMS- 10050) handbook hat describes your Medicare benefits and Medicare plan choices.

General enrollment period for Part B

If you do not enroll in Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period, you have another chance each year to sign up during a “general enrollment period” from January 1 through March 31. Your coverage begins the following July.However, your monthly premium increases 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible for, but did not enroll in, Medicare Part B.

For More Information

This information is taken from the booklet “Medicare” published in the public interest by the Social Security Administration. Source: – The official U.S. site for people with Medicare