Medicare is a federal health insurance program for qualifying individuals, including people age 65 and older, those with certain disabilities, and individuals with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), also known as permanent kidney failure.
Some people may confuse Medicaid and Medicare programs. Though both are federal health insurance programs run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the primary difference is that Medicaid is a needs-based insurance program while Medicare isn’t. Your income isn’t a determining factor for Medicare qualification.
There are monthly premiums for certain parts of Medicare. Additionally, Medicare does have some limitations and regulations on what it’ll cover for health care costs. Read on to learn more about each part of Medicare, what’s covered, and how to enroll.
When you become eligible for Medicare, you have choices to make. First, you must decide whether you’ll enroll in Part A and B or Part A only and defer Part B. Most people choose Part A because it is premium-free. If you’re enrolled in a health savings account (HSA), you won’t be able to continue contributing to it if you enroll in Part A. Once your A and B choices are made, you can keep Original Medicare and add a supplement and Part D plan or opt for a Medicare Advantage Plan for your health care coverage.
Here’s what each part of Medicare covers and costs:
|Medicare Part A||
|Medicare Part B||
|Medicare Part C||
|Medicare Part D||
What isn't Covered by Medicare?
Original Medicare doesn’t cover specific services, including:
- Long-term care
- Dental care (with some exceptions)
- Vision exams needed to prescribe glasses
- Cosmetic surgery
- Hearing aids and related exams
- Routine foot care
If Medicare doesn’t provide adequate coverage for your health care needs, consider a Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan (Medigap) or a Medicare Advantage Plan, which can offer coverage Original Medicare doesn’t.
How Do I Enroll in Medicare?
There are a few different ways to enroll in Medicare. Some people are enrolled in Medicare automatically, and others will have to sign up on their own. Everyone should check with the Social Security Administration three months before their expected start date to ensure everything is in order.
You’ll be enrolled automatically in Medicare if you:
- Are already receiving Social Security benefits (at least four months prior to start)
- Receive U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) benefits (at least four months prior to start)
- Are under age 65 but have a Social Security disability for 24 months
- Have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease or ESRD
You’ll have to enroll in Medicare on your own if you:
- Are about to turn 65
- Are already age 65 but not receiving Social Security benefits
There are also some individual circumstances that may change the timing of your enrollment. For instance, if you have an employer-sponsored health insurance program, you may be able to wait to apply for Medicare Part B instead of being required to apply when you’re age 65.
Medicare enrollment periods
The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) for Medicare is a seven-month period beginning three months before you turn 65, the month in which you turn 65, and three months after you turn 65. For example, if you turn 65 on June 14, your IEP is from March 1 through September 30.
If you don’t sign up during your initial enrollment period, and you aren’t covered by an employer health plan or are volunteering overseas for at least 12 months, you’ll begin accruing Part B late enrollment penalties. You’ll only be able to enroll during the General Enrollment Period (GEP). The GEP runs from January 1 through March 31 each year, with coverage starting July 1st.
Medicare Advantage plans cannot start before your Part B start date, so if you don’t enroll in Part B by the end of your IEP, you’ll have to wait until the GEP for Medicare Advantage enrollment also. If you enroll in Part B during the GEP, you can join a Medicare Advantage Plan or a Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D) between April 1 and June 30. Your Medigap open enrollment period starts the first month you have Part B and lasts for six months.
When does Medicare coverage start?
Your Medicare coverage start date depends on when you enroll. Remember, during the IEP, you can enroll three months before you turn 65, the month you turn 65, and three months after you turn 65.
|When You Enroll||When Coverage Starts||Example: Turning 65 on May 10|
|The three months before you turn 65||The first day of the month you turn 65||May 1|
|The month you turn 65||The first day of the month after you turn 65||June 1|
|The month after you turn 65||Two months after you sign up||August 1|
|Two or three months after you turn 65||Three months after you sign up||October 1 (if you enroll in July)
November 1 (if you enroll in August)
If you enroll during your IEP, you can coordinate your ancillary coverage, that is, Medigap and Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage to start the same day as your Medicare Part A and B coverage.
If you enroll during a Special Enrollment Period, coverage generally starts the month after your sign up.
When you’re ready to apply for Medicare, you can fill out an online application through the Social Security Administration website or in-person at your local Social Security Administration office.
Learn More From Our Sources
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services | Fact Sheet: 2021 Medicare Costs | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | Your Medicare Part A Costs | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | Part B: Annual Wellness Visit | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | Your Medicare Part B Costs | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | Part D: Prescription Drug Coverage | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | What Medicare Covers | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | What’s Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap)? | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | When Can I Buy Medigap? | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | When Does Medicare Coverage Start? | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | Understanding Medicare Advantage and Part D Enrollment Periods | Last accessed January 2023
- Medicare | Extra Help: Get Help Paying for Medicare | Last accessed January 2023
- SSA | Sign up for Medicare through Social Security | Last accessed January 2023
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