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Introduction to Medicare
Medicare is the federal government program that provides health care coverage (health insurance) if you are 65+, under 65 and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for a certain amount of time, or under 65 and with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is the federal agency that runs Medicare. The program is funded in part by Social Security and Medicare taxes you pay on your income, in part through premiums that people with Medicare pay, and in part by the federal budget.
Once you have become Medicare-eligible and enroll, you can choose to get your Medicare benefits from Original Medicare, the traditional fee-for-service program offered directly through the federal government, or from a Medicare Advantage Plan, a type of private insurance offered by companies that contract with Medicare (the federal government). Original Medicare includes:
- Part A (Inpatient/hospital coverage)
- Part B (Outpatient/medical coverage)
If you want Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) with Original Medicare, in most cases you will need to actively choose and join a stand-alone Medicare private drug plan (PDP).
You still have Medicare if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan. This means that you will still owe a monthly Part B premium (and your Part A premium, if you have one). Each Medicare Advantage Plan must provide all Part A and Part B services covered by Original Medicare, but can do so with different rules, costs, and restrictions that can affect how and when you receive care. Medicare Advantage Plans can also provide Part D coverage. Note that if you have health coverage from a union or current or former employer when you become eligible for Medicare, you may automatically be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan that they sponsor. You have the choice to stay with this plan, switch to Original Medicare, or enroll in a different Medicare Advantage Plan, but you should speak with your employer/union before making any change.
It is important to understand your Medicare coverage choices and to pick your coverage carefully. How you choose to get your benefits and who you get them from can affect your out-of-pocket costs and where you can get your care. For instance, in Original Medicare, you are covered to go to nearly all doctors and hospitals in the country. Medicare Advantage Plans, on the other hand, usually have network restrictions, meaning that you will be more limited in your access to doctors and hospitals. However, Medicare Advantage Plans can also provide additional benefits that Original Medicare does not cover, such as routine vision or dental care.
Medicare is different from Medicaid, which is another government program that provides health insurance. Medicaid is funded and run by the federal government in partnership with states to cover people with limited incomes. Depending on the state, Medicaid can be available to people below a certain income level who meet other criteria (e.g., age, disability status, pregnancy) or be available to all people below a certain income level. Remember, unlike Medicaid, Medicare eligibility does not depend on income. Also, eligible individuals can have both Medicare and Medicaid and are known as dual-eligibles.
Everyone who has Medicare receives a red, white, and blue Original Medicare card. If you choose to receive your coverage through Original Medicare, you will show this card when you get services. If you choose to receive your Medicare benefits through a Medicare Advantage Plan, you will still get an Original Medicare card but you will show your Medicare Advantage Plan card when you get services. No matter how you get your Medicare health benefits, only give your Medicare number to your doctors and health care providers.
What is Medicare
Medicare changes in 2021
Starting in 2021, there are several important changes to Medicare that will affect coverage, Medicare Advantage Plans, and prescription drug coverage. Listed below are pages we encourage you to review to learn more about 2021 changes. These pages include information about Medigaps, Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits, and the closure of the donut hole.
The parts of Medicare (A, B, C, D)
There are four parts of Medicare: Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D.
- Part A provides inpatient/hospital coverage.
- Part B provides outpatient/medical coverage.
- Part C offers an alternate way to receive your Medicare benefits (see below for more information).
- Part D provides prescription drug coverage.
Generally, the different parts of Medicare help cover specific services. Most beneficiaries choose to receive their Parts A and B benefits through Original Medicare, the traditional fee-for-service program offered directly through the federal government. It is sometimes called Traditional Medicare or Fee-for-Service (FFS) Medicare. Under Original Medicare, the government pays directly for the health care services you receive. You can see any doctor and hospital that takes Medicare (and most do) anywhere in the country.
In Original Medicare:
- You go directly to the doctor or hospital when you need care. You do not need to get prior permission/authorization from Medicare or your primary care doctor.
- You are responsible for a monthly premium for Part B. Some also pay a premium for Part A.
- You typically pay a coinsurance for each service you receive.
- There are limits on the amounts that doctors and hospitals can charge for your care.
If you want prescription drug coverage with Original Medicare, in most cases you will need to actively choose and join a stand-alone Medicare private drug plan (PDP).
Note: There are a number of government programs that may help reduce your health care and prescription drug costs if you meet the eligibility requirements.
Unless you choose otherwise, you will have Original Medicare. Instead of Original Medicare, you can decide to get your Medicare benefits from a Medicare Advantage Plan, also called Part C or Medicare private health plan. Remember, you still have Medicare if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan. This means that you must still pay your monthly Part B premium (and your Part A premium, if you have one). Each Medicare Advantage Plan must provide all Part A and Part B services covered by Original Medicare, but they can do so with different rules, costs, and restrictions that can affect how and when you receive care.
It is important to understand your Medicare coverage choices and to pick your coverage carefully. How you choose to get your benefits and who you get them from can affect your out-of-pocket costs and where you can get your care. For instance, in Original Medicare, you are covered to go to nearly all doctors and hospitals in the country. On the other hand, Medicare Advantage Plans typically have network restrictions, meaning that you will likely be more limited in your choice of doctors and hospitals. However, Medicare Advantage Plans can also provide additional benefits that Original Medicare does not cover, such as routine vision or dental care.
What is Covered by Parts A,B,C, & D of Medicare?
Medicare Part C is not a separate benefit. Part C is the part of Medicare law that allows private health insurance companies to provide Medicare benefits. These Medicare private health plans, such as HMOs and PPOs, contract with the federal government and are known as Medicare Advantage Plans. If you want, you can choose to get your Medicare coverage through a Medicare Advantage Plan instead of through Original Medicare.
Medicare Advantage Plans must offer, at minimum, the same benefits as Original Medicare (those covered under Parts A and B) but can do so with different rules, costs, and coverage restrictions. You also typically get Part D as part of your Medicare Advantage benefits package (MAPD). Many different kinds of Medicare Advantage Plans are available. You may pay a monthly premium for this coverage, in addition to your Part B premium.
If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO, PPO, or PFFS), you will not use the red, white, and blue card when you go to the doctor or hospital. Instead, you will use the membership card your private plan sends you to get health services covered. You will also use this card at the pharmacy if your health plan has Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D).
Medicare Part D
Medicare’s prescription drug benefit (Part D) is the part of Medicare that provides outpatient drug coverage. Part D is provided only through private insurance companies that have contracts with the federal government—it is never provided directly by the government (unlike Original Medicare).
If you want to get Part D coverage, you have to choose and enroll in a private Medicare prescription drug plan (PDP) or a Medicare Advantage Plan with drug coverage (MAPD). Enrollment is optional (though recommended to avoid incurring future penalties) and only allowed during approved enrollment periods. Typically, you should sign up for Part D when you first become eligible to enroll in Medicare.
Whether you should sign up for a Medicare Part D plan depends on your circumstances. You may have creditable drug coverage from employer or retiree insurance. If so, you don’t need to enroll in a PDP until you lose this coverage. Also, some people already enrolled in certain low-income assistance programs may be automatically enrolled in a Medicare drug plan and receive additional financial assistance paying for their medicines.