Learn About Medicare

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.

Medicare has four parts:

  • Part A Hospital Insurance – helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (following a hospital stay), some home health care and hospice care.
  • Part B Medical Insurance – helps pay for doctors’ services and many other medical services and supplies that are not covered by hospital insurance.
  • Part C Medicare Advantage – People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to receive all of their health care services through a private provider organization under Part C. Plans are only available in specific areas.
  • Part D Prescription Drug Coverage – helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment.

When should I apply?

If you live in one of the 50 states or Washington, D.C., you should 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 Part B down. You can 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. Click here to go to the Social Security online Retirement/Medicare application.

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, stolen, or destroyed you can apply for a replacement card on the Social Security Internet web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicarecard or call Social Security’s toll-free number 1-800-772-1213.