Medicare is a federal program that provides healthcare coverage in “parts.” Medicare Part A provides coverage for hospital insurance, and Medicare Part B provides coverage for outpatient services. When people refer to Medicare, they usually mean Original Medicare, which consists of both Part A and Part B.
Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, covers everything included in Original Medicare and bundles Part A and Part B into a single plan. These plans usually include additional benefits that Original Medicare doesn’t offer, provided by private insurers who follow guidelines set by the federal government.
Who Is Eligible for Medicare?
People at least 65 years of age who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are eligible for Medicare. Most people eligible for Social Security are also eligible for Medicare. People who are younger than 65 with certain disabilities also qualify, as well as those who are on dialysis or have had a kidney transplant.
What Does Medicare Cover in Parts A, B, C and D?
Original Medicare covers hospital stays, skilled nursing, home health care and hospice care (Part A). It also covers doctor’s visits, preventive care, mental health services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, lab services and other outpatient services (Part B).
Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs, eyeglasses, hearing aids or dental care (unless performed in the hospital under Part A). People who choose Original Medicare can buy prescription drug coverage with a standalone plan known as Part D.
Medicare Advantage covers everything included in Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage plans also include prescription drug coverage and frequently offer dental and vision coverage, hearing aids coverage and fitness benefits. These coverages vary by plan.
When and How to Apply for Medicare
You can sign up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday, though people with certain disabilities who are under the age of 65 may also apply. Coverage typically kicks in at least one month after you sign up.
Medicare’s open enrollment period occurs annually from October 15 through December 7, during which time you can add or augment your coverage. Coverage typically begins January 1 for those who enroll by December 7. The Medicare Advantage open enrollment period runs from January 1 through March 31.
To enroll in Medicare, you can either:
- Call 1-800-772-1213 to speak with the Social Security Administration, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m (EST).
- Apply online at SSA.gov.
- Visit your local Social Security office to apply in person.
After you enroll, you’ll receive your card and a welcome package in the mail to confirm your coverage and benefits.