Home > Health & Wellness > Health Library > Medicare: What You Need to Know
Medicare is health insurance that the United States government provides for people ages 65 and older. It also covers some people younger than 65 who have disabilities and people who have long-term (chronic) kidney failure who need dialysis or a transplant.
Medicare helps pay for most hospital services and doctor visits. It also helps pay for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and some other home health services.
But Medicare doesn't cover everything. It doesn't pay for:
Medicare services are offered in parts. Parts A and B are often called original Medicare.
These plans have different costs depending on the plan you choose. You may have monthly premiums, as well as deductibles and co-pays.
You pay a premium for the drug plan, which can vary based on what is covered in the plan.
Most people are automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B if they:
If you qualify for automatic enrollment, you will be sent your Medicare card 3 months before you turn 65 or your 25th month of disability.
You need to apply to get Part A and Part B benefits if you aren't getting Social Security or railroad benefits. (You're 65 or older but still working, for example.)
You also need to sign up if you have end-stage renal disease. Medicare covers dialysis treatment for people who have permanent kidney failure.
You can get more information and sign up for Medicare by calling the Social Security office at 1-800-772-1213 or by applying online at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicareonly.
If you don't sign up for Parts A and B when you are first eligible—by the first day of the month you turn 65—you may pay a higher premium (for the rest of your life) than if you had signed up then. A penalty also may apply for late enrollment in Part D, depending on how long you went without drug coverage.
Medigap is an insurance policy that you can buy from a private company to cover costs that are not covered by original Medicare. These costs include co-payments and deductibles. The cost of a Medigap policy depends on what is covered. Some policies pay for health care costs when you travel outside the United States.
You pay a monthly premium to the insurer, as well as paying the Medicare premium for Part B.
A Medigap policy only covers one person, so you and your spouse would each need your own policy.
Medicaid is health insurance for adults who have low income and limited resources. It also covers people who have disabilities.
Medicaid and Medicare are run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the U.S. government.
You can find out more about Medicare and what it would cost you in your situation at www.medicare.gov. Or you can call 1-800-633-4227.
The website www.cms.gov has information on both Medicare and Medicaid.
You also can get help to decide what plans might be best for you through your state's Health Insurance Assistance Program. For more information, see www.shiptalk.org/Public/home.aspx.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
I want to...
1111 Duff Avenue Ames, Iowa 50010
515-239-2011 Email us
Anywhere in Iowa 800-524-6877