Medicare Overview: What is Medicare?
The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) of the Department of Health and Human Services manages Medicare - a social insurance plan administered by the U.S. Government, guaranteeing access to quality healthcare for eligible U.S. citizens aged 65 years or above. The national social insurance program is also available for younger people with disabilities or suffering from end-stage renal disease. You will either work directly with the Health Care Financing Administration or with a private insurer, who will handle the paperwork and claims.
Medicare insurance comprises four parts, with each part covering different aspects of healthcare: Medicare A, Medicare B, Medicare C, Medicare D. Medicare Part A, and Medicare Part B are together called Original Medicare or Traditional Medicare, covering most of the medical expenses but not all, whereas Medicare Part C is a form of supplemental insurance. Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, can be purchased from a private insurance company in contract with Medicare. Part C offers all the benefits of Part A and Part B plus some extra advantages. Part D is specific coverage for prescription drugs and can be added to your Traditional Medicare plan or your Medicare Advantage plan if it doesn't cover prescription drugs.
If you're already a Medicare patient, you can read more about which travel insurance plans can help you on your travels.
Eligibility for Medicare (Who is Eligible for Medicare?)
Medicare is a healthcare plan for you if you meet the requirements below:
- If you're 65 years of age or older
- If you're under age 65 years with certain disabilities
- If you're suffering from end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure requiring regular dialysis or a kidney transplant
- If you receive or are eligible to receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits based on your own work record (40 or more quarters of US based employment) or on someone else's work record (such as a spouse, divorced spouse, widow, widower, divorced widow, divorced widower, or parent)
- You or your spouse worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid.
- If you are under 65 and have received Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board disability benefits for 24 months or are on kidney dialysis / kidney transplant patient, you can get Part A without paying a monthly premium.
Note: Even if you're not eligible for free Part A coverage, you may still be able to purchase it by paying a premium. For example, if you've worked 39 quarters or less in the United States, then you are not eligible for free Medicare Part A, but you can purchase Medicare Part A at a discounted rate. Call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at (800) 772-1213 for more information.
There are 2 enrollment periods where you can enroll in Medicare:
- The initial enrollment period is for 7 months, including the month you become eligible for Medicare (your 65th birthday), 3 months before and 3 months after. You are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B and will receive a Medicare handbook and a Medicare card during the initial period. You have the option of changing your Medicare options at this point, the details are explained in the Medicare packet.
- The general enrollment period starts from January 1st to March 31st each year. If you decline your enrollment or weren't enrolled for other reasons during your initial enrollment period, then the general enrollment period is when you can re-enroll when you are ready to be covered by Medicare. If you enroll during the general enrollment period, your coverage will begin on July 1st of that year.
How do You Sign Up for Medicare?
Anyone receiving Social Security benefits will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B at age 65 when he or she becomes eligible. If you're not receiving Social Security benefits before age 65, you'll be automatically enrolled when you apply for benefits at age 65 at retirement. But if you decide to delay retirement until after age 65, remember to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B at age 65 anyway, because your enrollment won't be automatic. Call 1800.MEDICARE for more information and enrollment.
If you're going to be automatically enrolled in Medicare, you'll receive an initial enrollment package by mail from the SSA, usually three months before your 65th birthday. Of course, even if you sign up for Part A, you don't have to enroll in Part B, or you can decide to delay enrolling. But first, carefully read the information contained in your initial enrollment package. It explains the consequences of not enrolling at age 65 (e.g., you may have to pay a higher premium later) and will help you learn more about the Medicare program.
For more information about Medicare enrollment, call the SSA at (800) 772-1213.