Medicare is a federal health insurance program managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). You are eligible for Medicare once you have reached age 65 (or younger, if you have a disability).
The ABC’s and D’s of Medicare
- Medicare Part A (Original Medicare hospital insurance): Inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care, and some home health care
- Medicare Part B (Original Medicare medical insurance): Doctor’s services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive care
- Medicare Part C (Medicare-approved plan from a private company): Usually bundles hospital, medical, and prescription drug coverages. You might have heard of these plans as Medicare Advantage plans.
- Medicare Part D: Prescription drugs
Original Medicare includes Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. You also have the choice to add a separate prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D). Original Medicare pays for some, but not all, of the cost of your health care services.
If you are eligible for Social Security benefits, you’ll automatically get Original Medicare Part A and Part B starting the first day of the month you turn age 65. You’ll receive your red, white, and blue Medicare card in the mail three months prior to turning 65.
If you are not eligible for Social Security benefits, you will need to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B. You should sign up at least four months before you turn age 65.
If you have Original Medicare, you have the option to buy a Medicare Supplement plan (Medigap) to help pay for the remaining costs not covered by Original Medicare, such as copays, coinsurance, and deductibles. Medicare Supplement policies are sold by private insurance companies. Some Medicare Supplement policies also cover additional services that Medicare doesn’t cover, such as medical care when you travel outside the United States. They do not, however, cover long-term care, vision or dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or private-duty nursing.
Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) is an alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are sold by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. These policies bundle Part A, Part B, and usually Part D. Some Medicare Advantage plans will also offer benefits such as vision, hearing, dental, and more.
Unlike Medicare Supplement plans, Medicare Advantage plans are local or regional and have a network of providers, so you need to choose a plan that offers coverage where you live.
Medicare and the Health Options Program
Watch our short video that explains how Medicare works with the Health Options Program.
Last Modified: November 17, 2023