Medicare Basics

Medicare is a U.S. federal program that provides health insurance for those 65 years old and older, and some people under 65 with certain disabilities. It is the largest health insurance program in the U.S.

Medicare was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965, in Independence, Mo. The first person signed up for the program was Missouri’s own President Harry S. Truman.

Back then, there was only one section, what is now known as Medicare Part A. Over time, additional options were added. Each works differently from the others, which can be confusing.

Today, the sections of Medicare are:

Medicare Part A
This helps pay for hospitals, home health, hospice, and skilled-nursing facility care. Most people pay for this while they are working, so there is no monthly cost. You will have to pay some money when using the benefits.

Medicare Part B
This helps pay for medical care. For example, it pays for doctors visits, outpatient hospital services, and medical equipment. Most people with Part B pay a monthly bill (usually taken from their Social Security) and share the cost each time they use the benefits.

Medicare Advantage
This is sometimes called Medicare Part C. Medicare Advantage Plans are different ways of getting benefits offered by Part A and Part B. The plans have contracts with the Medicare to provide insurance coverage. The plans may apply premiums deductibles and co-insurances. Some also include extra benefits like dental and vision screenings.

Medicare Part D
This helps pay for medicine. To join, you must pick a plan run by a private company. Each plan has a different monthly cost. You will normally pay some money when you pick up your medicine.

Medicare Part A and Part B are considered “Original Medicare.” These two form the basic Medicare coverage. Medicare Part D is the most recent addition to Medicare. Most people with Original Medicare also join Part D.

Am I eligible?

Most people can join Medicare when they turn 65. You can also join if you:

  1. Receive Social Security disability checks for 24 months, or
  2. Have permanent kidney failure, known as End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), or
  3. Have Lou Gehrig’s Disease, known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).


Medicare provides an online Medicare Eligibility Tool that can help tell you if or when you will become eligible.

Next page: I'm eligible. Now what?

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