Medicare is a health insurance program provided by the Federal government for people 65 years of age or older, people under 65 with certain disabilities, and people any age with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). There are three parts: A is hospital insurance, B is medical insurance, and D is prescription drug coverage.
Part A Hospital Insurance helps cover inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities (not custodial or long-term care). Hospice and some home healthcare are also covered. Most people don't have to pay a monthly premium for part A.
Part B Medical Insurance helps cover doctors' services and outpatient care. It also covers physical and occupational therapists and some home healthcare if these are medically necessary as prescribed by your physician(s). You pay an annual deductible and monthly premium for part B. Medicare deductible and premium rates may change each January.
Part D Prescription Drug Coverage may help lower prescription drug costs. Part D is optional. Medicare drug plans are run by insurance companies and private companies approved by Medicare. If you join a Medicare drug plan, you usually pay a monthly premium.
If you are receiving Social Security benefits when you turn 65, then your Medicare Hospital Benefits start automatically (Medicare Part A). If you are not receiving Social Security, then you should sign up for Medicare close to your 65th birthday, even if you are not retired or planning to retire.
What about "Medigap" insurance? What is it and do you need it? Medicare supplement insurance is also known as "Medigap" insurance because it covers the costs of health care that the "original" Medicare program doesn't. If you are covered by a health insurance plan (from your workplace or other type of group policy) then you may not need a medigap policy. Medigap insurance only works with the original "fee-for-service" Medicare plan not the Medicare Advantage (formerly Medicare + Choice) plans. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, it's illegal for anyone to sell you a Medigap policy.
Understanding your Medicare coverage can be confusing. Each person's situation is different. The following resources should help you make more informed decisions. And most of the resources include phone numbers or other contact information if you need additional help.
Medicare.gov is the official U.S. Government site for people with Medicare. The Frequently Asked Questions section has answers to over 250 questions. Many of the Medicare publications (and the Social Security site) send you to this site for more information. It also has a detailed section on prescription drug coverage.
The following resources are pdf files and need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them. If you don't have the Reader on your computer you may download it from Adobe.
Medicare and You is the official government handbook published each year. It describes Medicare benefits, changes for the year, medicare plans, medicare prescription drug coverage, and more.
Medicare and Other Health Benefits: Your Guide to Who Pays First provides an explanation of how Medicare pays with other types of insurance.
Your Medicare Benefits provides an explanation of Part A and Part B benefits.
Choosing a Medigap Policy: A Guide to Health Insurance for People with Medicare provides information on choosing a Medigap policy to supplement the original Medicare plan.
Medicare Rights Center provides information about your Medicare benefits and rights. Sections include Medicare Answers, Medicare Interactive and more. You can also subscribe to free newsletters: Dear Marci which has basic health tips, Medicare coverage advice, health plan reminder, and links to other resources and Medicare Watch has Medicare Q&As,health care policy news, and changes in Medicare benefits..
AARP has sections on Insurance & Medicare with articles on Medicare, supplemental plans, managed care, and private insurance.
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