Medicare Resources for Immigrant Populations

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There are a number of resources and supports available locally and online to help answer  questions about Medicare eligibility, coverage, and how to apply. Medicare offers written resources in nearly two dozen different languages which you can link to in the table of resources at the end of this article. Resources cover a variety of topics ranging from overviews of the parts of Medicare to COVID-19 vaccine coverage to who to contact for answers to your Medicare questions.

You can always request translation assistance when you have questions about or need to access health care. Click here for Medicare resources in other languages.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), programs that receive federal financial assistance, including Medicaid and Medicare Parts A, C, and D, need to provide language assistance services, such as interpreters and translated documents. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) understands that Medicare beneficiaries have communication and language needs that must be met for them to receive quality care.

Can My Immigrant Parents or Immigrant Spouse Get Medicare?

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for United States citizens or permanent legal residents who are age 65 or older, younger with certain disabilities, or who have end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Immigrants can get Medicare if they meet eligibility requirements. Medicare is an individual health insurance program, so if you have Medicare, you cannot also get it for your spouse or parents.

You may be able to help your parents or spouse begin the process of establishing permanent residency in the U.S. so they can meet Medicare residency eligibility requirements. To establish permanent legal residency, immigrants need a green card and may be able to apply for it through their family according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident, your parents or spouse may apply for a green card by virtue of their relationship to you.

If all other eligibility requirements are met, individuals may be able to get premium-free Medicare Part A based on their own earnings or those of a spouse, parent, or child. More about costs for Medicare is detailed below.

What Are the Medicare Eligibility Requirements for Immigrants?

Once immigrants meet residency requirements, eligibility and enrollment works the same as it does for other Medicare recipients. Immigrants must establish permanent legal residency by living in the U.S. for five continuous years prior to the month of filing an application for Medicare.

A green card allows immigrants to work and live in the U.S. According to U.S. Immigration laws, immigrants may be able to apply for a green card a variety of ways, including:

  • Through family
  • Through employment
  • As a special immigrant
  • Through refugee or asylee status
  • As a human trafficking or crime victim
  • As a victim of abuse
  • Through a registry
  • Through other categories

Immigrants must complete Form I-485, the application to register for permanent legal residence or adjust residency status. A sponsor or petitioner may complete the form on an immigrant’s behalf.

In addition to the permanent legal residency requirement, Medicare eligibility requirements include:

  • Being 65 years of age
  • Having a disability based on the Social Security’s definition of disability
  • Having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
  • Having ESRD (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant)

If you are eligible for Medicare due to disability, you must be receiving disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), or as a government employee.

When does the clock start to establish permanent legal residency?

The clock to establish the five-year permanent legal residency requirement for Medicare starts on the date you are granted permanent residence status. The USCIS website outlines Green Card processes and procedures to help you apply. The site offers information in several languages through its Multilingual Resource Center.

What disabilities qualify an immigrant for Medicare?

Immigrants who have established permanent residency and are under age 65 with disabilities may also qualify for Medicare. You first must meet the same eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits that apply to citizens, which are based on work history, paying Social Security taxes on income, and having enough years of Social Security taxes accumulated to equal between 20 and 40 work credits (five to 10 years).

If you are under the age of 65, you may qualify for Medicare if you’ve been receiving monthly RRB disability benefits for a total disability for at least 24 months. The RRB uses Social Security guidelines to determine disability. .

There are a number of possible impairments that may qualify you for disability. Social Security considers you disabled if you can’t do the work you used to do because of your medical condition, you can’t perform other work due to your medical condition, and your disability is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in your death. See Social Security’s listing here. In addition to other disabilities, you may be eligible for Medicare coverage if

  • You have ALS and you receive SSDI or RRB disability benefits.

You have ESRD and have completed a Medicare application. You or your spouse must have worked long enough under Social Security, the RRB, or as a government employee to be eligible for retirement benefits.

How Much Does Medicare for Immigrants Cost?

Medicare for immigrants costs vary depending on several factors detailed here:

  • Work history and payment of Medicare taxes:
    • To be eligible for premium-free Part A, an individual must be entitled to receive Medicare based on their own earnings or those of a spouse, parent, or child. The worker must have a specified number of quarters of coverage (QCs) and file an application for Social Security or RRB benefits. The exact number of QCs required is dependent on whether the person is filing for Part A (hospital insurance) on the basis of age, disability, or ESRD.
    • If an individual is not eligible for premium-free Part A, they can buy it if they are age 65 or older and enrolled in Part B. The monthly premium for Part A in 2022 is either $274 or $499 depending on how long you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes. While you must buy Part B if you choose to buy Part A, you can still buy Part B if you choose to not buy Part A.
  • Enrollment in Part B:
    • If you enroll in Part B (medical insurance), you pay the standard monthly premium of $170.10 in 2022. See below for Part B and Part D additional costs for people with higher income.
  • Income:
    • If your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from two years ago is above a certain amount (above $91,000), you’ll pay the standard premium amount and an Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). This additional amount applies to Medicare Part B and Part D (prescription drug coverage).
    • If your income and financial resources are below a certain threshold, you may get help from Medicaid to pay Medicare premiums and other out-of-pocket costs.You may be eligible for Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) like Qualified Medicare Beneficiary Program, Specified Low-Income Beneficiary Program, or Qualifying Individual Program.
    • Medicaid may also make Medicare coverage more affordable by paying for certain services that Medicare doesn’t cover. Medicaid may cover some or all of the cost of hearing aids, for example. Medicaid may also cover more than 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility while Medicare only pays for a maximum of 100 days per benefit period. Eligibility for these programs depends on your income, assets, and eligibility for other savings programs run by government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
  • Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap):
    • If you choose to purchase a Medigap policy to help cover deductibles, copays, and coinsurance charges when you access your Original Medicare Part A and B benefits, you pay a monthly premium. Monthly premiums vary depending on where you live, your age, gender, and tobacco use. You must be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B to purchase a Medigap policy, and you cannot be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan at the same time.
  • Medicare Advantage Plan:
    •  All Medicare Advantage Plan enrollees must continue to pay Part A monthly premiums if they don’t get it for free and Part B monthly premiums. Medicare Advantage Plans may charge a monthly premium. Annual deductibles for health care and prescription drugs may apply, along with copays and coinsurance when you access benefits. You must be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B to join a Medicare Advantage Plan.
  • Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage:
    • If you choose to purchase Medicare Part D, you pay a monthly premium that varies depending on your plan. Deductible, copays, and coinsurance charges apply when you access your benefits. You may qualify for Extra Help based on low income which will help cover some of the costs. You may have to pay an IRMAA if your income two years ago was above $91,000, as with Part B. You must be enrolled in Part A and/or B to buy a Part D plan.
  • Late enrollment penalties
    • You may incur late enrollment penalties for any of the parts of Medicare, if you do not enroll when you are eligible. Get help with decisions about when to enroll in Medicare to avoid late fees.

What About Medicare Advantage for Immigrants?

Immigrants who are enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B are eligible to join a Medicare Advantage Plan available in their area. Medicare Advantage Plans are an alternate way to get your Medicare Part A and B benefits and typically also offer things Original Medicare doesn’t cover, such as prescription drugs, dental, vision, and hearing benefits.

Medicare Resources

Medicare provides written resources listed in the table below in the following languages: Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Hmong, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog, Tongan, and Vietnamese. Learn about each topic by clicking on this link, selecting your language, and reading the resource published by the CMS.

Resource How To Use This Resource
Get Help with your Medicare costs See if your income is at or below the limits in the chart on page two. Contact your state Medicaid office to see if you qualify for financial assistance through MSPs.
Medicare’s Coverage of Diabetes Supplies & Services Read through the Medicare coverage of diabetes at-a-glance chart on pages six through eight for a quick overview of some of the diabetes services and supplies covered by Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D. The entire booklet provides details about Medicare coverage and includes tips to help control diabetes.
Staying Healthy Medicare’s Preventive Services Scroll through Medicare Part B’s coverage of preventive and screening services which is arranged alphabetically.
Have you done your Yearly Medicare Plan Review? Read the two-page brochure about when you can change your Medicare plan, where to compare plans available in your area, and who to contact for assistance.
What Is Medicare? What Is Medicaid? Read for a brief overview of Medicare federal health insurance and Medicaid financial assistance programs.
4 Programs that Can Help You Pay Your Medical Expenses Read for an explanation of federal and state programs that can help pay for health and prescription drug costs if you meet income limits.
Medicare Supplement Insurance Read this overview of Medigap plans that may be available to you if you have Original Medicare Parts A and B.
A Quick Look at Medicare A brief resource about Medicare health insurance and information about how to get the help you need to make decisions about your Medicare benefits.
Medicare Summary Notice for Part A (Hospital Insurance) Review this form when you receive a Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) for services billed by Medicare Part A. Includes a number to call if you need translation services and information on how to file an appeal if you disagree with a denied claim.
Medicare Summary Notice for Part B (Medical Insurance) Review this form when you receive a MSN for services billed by Medicare Part B. Includes a number to call if you need translation services and information on how to file an appeal if you disagree with a denied claim.
Stay Protected from COVID-19 – Medicare Covers the Vaccine One page sheet with instructions about what you need to get the COVID-19 vaccine from Medicare and more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about how to stay protected.
Bring Your Medicare Card When You Get Your COVID-19 Vaccine Shows what your red, white, and blue Medicare card looks like.
Medicare Covers the COVID-19 Vaccine Read for information about how Medicare covers the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots.
Where to Get Your Medicare Questions Answered Read to understand when to contact Medicare and when to contact SSA, including how to sign up for Medicare.

Medicare Resources in Other Languages

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As a health care professional since 1987, Kelly Blackwell has walked alongside and cared for seniors as they journey through the season of their fourth quarter of life. Blackwell holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Northern Colorado, a Master of Science in health care administration from Grand Canyon University, an interprofessional graduate certificate in palliative care from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and holds a Certified Senior Advisor® credential from the Society of Certified Senior Advisors.

Blackwell contributes to the University of Colorado-Anschutz blog and has been published in “The Human Touch” distributed by the University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities. She cowrote “Dying Is” for Pathways Hospice.

A registered nurse, Blackwell understands health insurance choices influence quality of life and are driven by values, goals, and beliefs. She’s passionate about engaging with, educating, and empowering seniors as they navigate the health care system. She’s equipped to lend an experienced, compassionate voice to beneficiaries seeking information about Medicare Advantage Plans.

As a CSA®, Blackwell has access to valuable resources for Medicare beneficiaries. Her work as a bedside nurse and clinical manager has given her the opportunity to see how Medicare rules, regulations, and benefits work when patients need them. With a passion to learn and to make a difference in the lives of seniors, Blackwell supports seniors through Medicare and fourth-quarter life decisions.

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