What is Medicare and who can get it?

What are the different parts of Medicare?

The Medicare program has four parts:

  • Part A (hospital insurance): Hospital insurance helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (following a hospital stay), some home health care and hospice care..
  • Part B (medical insurance): Medical insurance helps pay for doctors’ services and many other medical services and supplies that hospital insurance does not cover.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage plans): If you have Medicare Parts A and B, you can join a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private companies and approved by Medicare. These plans generally help you pay the medical costs not covered by Medicare Part A and B.
  • Part D (prescription drug coverage): Prescription drug coverage helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment.

Can I sign up for Medicare Part B if I am working and have health insurance through an employer?

Choosing to sign up for Medicare is an important decision that involves a number of issues you may need to consider. The decision you make will depend on your situation and the type of health insurance you have. You may be able to delay signing up for Medicare Part B without a late enrollment penalty if you or your spouse (or a family member, if you’re disabled) is working, and you’re getting health insurance benefits based on current employment. In most cases, if you don't sign up for Part B when you're first eligible, you'll have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Part B. Coverage based on current employment does not include:

  • COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act);
  • Retiree health coverage;
  • VA (Veterans Affairs) health coverage; or
  • Individual health coverage (like through the Health Insurance Marketplace).
More information

Retirement Toolkit (Department of Labor)
Read the official pamphlet, Handbook- Medicare & You for more general information.

Will my Medicare premiums be higher because of my higher income?

Individuals with income more than $85,000 and married couples with income more than $170,000 will pay a larger percentage of their monthly Medicare Part B and D costs based on their income.
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Should I sign up for Medicare Part B if I have Veterans’ Benefits?

Signing up for Medicare Part B may provide you with additional service and location options.
If you don’t sign up for Part B when you are first eligible:

  • You may have to wait to sign up, which will delay your coverage, and;
  • You may also have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Medicare Part B.

How do I sign up for Medicare Part B if I already have Part A?

If you already have Medicare Part A and wish to sign up for Medicare Part B, please complete form CMS 40-B, Application for Enrollment in Medicare - Part B (Medical Insurance), and take or mail it to your local Social Security office. You can also call Social Security’s toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contact your local Social Security office.
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What are Medicare late enrollment penalties?

In most cases, if you don’t sign up for Medicare when you’re first eligible, you may have to pay a higher monthly premium.
More information on Medicare late enrollment penalties:

What is “Extra Help” under the Medicare prescription drug program and how can I apply?

Anyone who has Medicare can get Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). Some people with limited resources and income also may be able to get Extra Help. This Extra Help will help pay for the costs, such as monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription copayments.
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How much will the COLA amount be for 2017 and when will I receive it?

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for over 65 million Americans will increase 0.3 percent in 2017. The Social Security Act ties the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The increase will begin with benefits that Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2017. Increased SSI payments will begin on December 30, 2016.
For more information see:

How do I apply for a new or replacement Social Security number card?

You can get an original Social Security card or a replacement card if yours is lost or stolen. There is no charge for a Social Security card. This service is free.
You can use a my Social Security account to request a replacement Social Security card online if you:

  • Are a U.S. citizen age 18 years or older with a U.S. mailing address;
  • Are not requesting a name change or any other change to your card;
If you cannot apply for a card online, you will need to show the required documents. We need to see different documents depending on your citizenship and the type of card you are requesting. See Learn What Documents You Need to find out what documents you will have to show. Fill out and print an Application for a Social Security Card; and take or mail your application and documents to your local Social Security office.

Other Questions You May Find Helpful

What happens if I work and get Social Security retirement benefits?

You can get Social Security retirement benefits and work at the same time. However, if you are younger than full retirement age and make more than the yearly earnings limit, we will reduce your benefit. Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, we will not reduce your benefits no matter how much you earn.

  • We use the following earnings limits to reduce your benefits: If you are under full retirement age for the entire year, we deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit.
For 2016 that limit is $15,720.
  • In the year you reach full retirement age, we deduct $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above a different limit, but we only count earnings before the month you reach your full retirement age.
If you will reach full retirement age in 2016, the limit on your earnings for the months before full retirement age is $41,880..
Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you can get your benefits with no limit on your earnings.
Use our Retirement Age Calculator to find your full retirement age based on your date of birth.
Use our Retirement Earnings Test Calculator to find out how much your benefits will be reduced.

What counts as earnings:
When we figure out how much to deduct from your benefits, we count only the wages you make from your job or your net earnings if you're self-employed. We include bonuses, commissions and vacation pay. We don't count pensions, annuities, investment income, interest, veterans or other government or military retirement benefits.

Your benefits may increase when you work:
As long as you continue to work, even if you are receiving benefits, you will continue to pay Social Security taxes on your earnings. However, we will check your record every year to see whether the additional earnings you had will increase your monthly benefit. If there is an increase, we will send you a letter telling you of your new benefit amount.
When you’re ready to apply for retirement benefits, use our online retirement application, the quickest, easiest, and most convenient way to apply.
When you’re ready to apply for retirement benefits, use our online retirement application, the quickest, easiest, and most convenient way to apply.

If you need to report a change in your earnings after you begin receiving benefits:
If you receive benefits and are under full retirement age and you think your earnings will be different than what you originally told us, let us know right away. You cannot report a change of earnings online. Please call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, or contact your local Social Security office.

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When can my spouse get Social Security benefits on my record?

Your spouse may be able to get benefits if he or she is at least age 62 and you are getting, or are eligible for, retirement or disability benefits. We also will pay benefits to your spouse at any age if there is a child in his or her care. The child must be under age 16 or disabled before age 22, and entitled to benefits. Your spouse also can qualify for Medicare at age 65.
See Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Spouse for more information.

How can I change my address?

If you get Social Security benefits or are enrolled in Medicare, you can change your address online by using a my Social Security account.
If you get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), do not have a U.S. mailing address, or are unable to change your address online, you can:


If you do not receive Social Security benefits, SSI or Medicare, you do not need to change your address with us.

What is COBRA?

COBRA is a law that requires employers with 20 or more employees to let employees and their dependents keep their group health coverage for a time after they leave their group health plan under certain conditions. This is called continuation coverage. You may have this right if you lose your job or have your working hours reduced, or if you are covered under your spouse's plan and your spouse dies or you get divorced. COBRA generally lets you and your dependents stay in your group health plan for 18 months (or up to 29 or 36 months in some cases), but you may have to pay both your share and the employer's share of the premium. Some state's laws require employers with less than 20 employees to let you keep your group health coverage for a time, but you should check with your State Department of Insurance to make sure. In most situations that give you COBRA rights, other than a divorce, you should get a notice from your benefits administrator. If you don't get a notice, or if you get divorced, you should call your benefits administrator as soon as possible.

What happens if I have COBRA and enroll in Medicare?

If you already have group health coverage under COBRA when you enroll in Medicare, your COBRA may end. The length of time your spouse may get coverage under COBRA may change when you enroll in Medicare. For more information about group health coverage under COBRA, call your State Department of Insurance.

What happens if I am in Medicare and choose to get COBRA coverage?

If you elect COBRA coverage after you enroll in Medicare, you can keep your COBRA continuation coverage. If you have only Medicare Part A when your group health plan coverage based on current employment ends; you can enroll in Medicare Part B during a Special Enrollment Period without having to pay a Part B premium penalty. You need to enroll in Part B either at the same time you enroll in Part A or during a Special Enrollment Period after your group health plan coverage based on current employment ends. However, if you have Medicare Part A only, sign-up for COBRA coverage, and wait until the COBRA coverage ends to enroll in Medicare Part B; you will have to pay a Part B premium penalty. You do not get a Part B special enrollment period when COBRA coverage ends. State law may give you the right to continue your coverage under COBRA beyond the point COBRA coverage would ordinarily end. Your rights will depend on what is allowed under the state law. Remember, enrolling in Medicare Part B will also trigger your Medicare Supplement open enrollment period.

Who pays first, Medicare or my COBRA continuation coverage?

If you are age 65 or older and have Medicare and COBRA continuation coverage, Medicare pays first. If you or a family member has Medicare based on a disability and COBRA coverage, Medicare is the primary payer. However, if you or a family member has Medicare based on ESRD, the COBRA coverage is the primary payer and Medicare is the secondary payer for the first 30 months.

What are Medicare-Medicaid Plans (MMP)?

Many consumers qualify for additional coverage through Medicaid due to low income status or certain health conditions. In some states, CMS and the state run a demonstration program called a Medicare- Medicaid Plan (MMP) where individuals receive both Medicare Parts A and B and full Medicaid benefits. Generally, qualified individuals are passively enrolled into the state’s coordinated care plan with the ability to opt-out and choose other Medicare options. Designed to manage and coordinate both Medicare and Medicaid and include Part D prescription drug coverage through one single health plan, MMP demonstrations and eligible populations vary by state.

What Is A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)

A Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) is a type of Medicare Advantage Plan in which members select a primary care physician (PCP) to help coordinate their care and must go to providers in the Plan’s contracted network, except for emergency, urgent care, and renal dialysis services. Members will need referrals from their PCP to see specialists in some plans.

IMPORTANT: Out-of-network providers are not required to accept the plan’s terms and conditions of payment; therefore, the member may be responsible for the full cost of services.

What Is A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)

A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) is a type of Medicare Advantage (MA) plan in which the member can use either network providers or non-network providers to receive services (going outside the provider network generally costs more). The plan does not require member to have a referral for specialist care. IMPORTANT: Out-of-network providers are not required to accept the plan’s terms and conditions of payment; therefore, the member may be responsible for the full cost of services.

What Is A Point-of-Service (POS) Plan

A Point-of-Service (POS) is a type of Medicare Advantage HMO plan that gives members the option to use provides outside the plan’s contracted network for certain benefits, generally at a higher cost. The benefits that are covered out-of-network vary by plan; some plans may have coverage limits for certain benefits. Our-of-network providers are not required to accept the plan’s terms and conditions of payment; therefore the member may be responsible for the full cost of services. Members will need referrals from their PCP to see specialists in some plans.

What Is A Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) Plan

A Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) is a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan that allows members to go to any Medicare eligible provider who agrees to accept the PFFS plan’s terms and conditions of payment. PFFS Plans may or may not use networks to provide care, depending on whether the PFFS Plan is a network or non-network plan.

What are Special NeedsPlans (SNP)?

A Special Needs Plan (SNP) is a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan that provides health care for specific groups of people, such as those who have both Medicare and Medicaid (dual SNP), or those who reside in a nursing home (Institutional SNP), or those who have certain chronic medical conditions (Chronic Condition SNP).

What Is A Medical Savings Account (MSA)?

A Medical Savings Account (MSA) is a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan that combines a high deductible MA plan and a bank account. The plan deposits money from Medicare in the account. Members can use it to pay for their medical expenses until their deductible is met.

What Is The Out-of-Pocket (OOP) Maximum?

An Out-of-Pocket (OOP) Maximum is a feature that limits the amount of money that consumers will have to spend on certain health care services throughout the year. Once members reach the OOP maximum for covered services, they do not have cost sharing for any additional services that are included in the OOP maximum for the remainder of the year.

  • All Medicare Advantage plans have an OOP maximum for coverage services
  • All Medicare-covered (Part A and Part B) services count toward the OOP maximum
  • Services that do not count toward the maximum are Part D prescription drugs and any non-Medicare-covered services such as routine eyewear and hearing aids.

The OOP maximum amount can and does vary between Medicare Advantage plans and change each year.

About Prescription Drug Plans (PDP)

All consumers with Medicare can obtain prescription drug coverage. Private insurance companies provide these plans.

Each plan can vary in cost and drugs covered. Consumers can access their Medicare Part D benefits by enrolling in either a stand-alone PDP or by joining a Medicare Advantage Prescriptive Drug plan (MA-PD). Other consumers may receive Part D benefits through an Employer-Sponsored Group Retiree Plan.

Member will pay a monthly premium to the plan to receive prescription drug coverage. In addition, they must continue to pay Medicare Part B premium, if applicable.

Members have three option to pay their monthly plan premium:

  • Auto deduction from their Social Security/Railroad Retirement Board payment
  • Auto pay from their back
  • Direct monthly billing

IMPORTANT: As of January 1, 2011, the consumer’s Part D monthly premium could be higher based on their income. This is called the Part D Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (Part D IRMAA) and affects fewer than 5% of Medicare consumers.

In the consumer’s modified adjusted gross income as reported on their IRS tax return from two years ago, is more than %85,000 (individuals and married individuals filing separately) and $170,000 (married individuals filing jointly), the consumer will pay extra for Medicare Part D. See: Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries Social Sequrity

A member might have to pay a late enrollment penalty if they did not enroll in a Medicare plan with prescription drug coverage when they first became eligible for Medicare and did not have other creditable coverage.

There are Four Stages to Medicare Part D:

  • The Yearly Deductible (NOTE: Some plans have a $0 deductible for prescription coverage).
  • Initial Coverage Limit with Copayment/coinsurance
  • The Coverage Gap
  • Catastrophic Coverage.

What Is the Extra Help Program?

Most Medicare eligible consumers can enroll in a Medicare PDP plan, but some enrollees will need extra help to pay for their prescriptions. There is a government program called “Extra Help” that will assist beneficiaries with PDP payments.

People with limited income may qualify for the Low Income Subsidy (LIS) through Medicare’s Extra Help program. The Extra Help can reduce or eliminate the following costs based on a member’s eligibility as determined by CMS:

  • Premium
  • Deductible
  • Prescription cost-sharing in the Initial Coverage phase and the Coverage Gap

Qualified enrollees can apply for Extra Help through the state Medicaid office or the Social Security Administration (SSA). People who are approved for Extra Help can usually begin receiving benefits the first day of the month following application.

How Low-Income Subsidy works with Prescription drug benefits:

Based on the Low-Income Subsidy (LIS) level awarded to the enrollee, their monthly plan premiums may be reduced by 25%, 50%, 75% or 100%.

CMS determines the LIS coverage level a beneficiary receives. The LIS benefit amount takes the place of the Part D benefit coverage. Once the beneficiary has Extra Help, they will begin to pay the Low-Income Subsidy cost share (LICS) associated with their level of subsidy. The enrollee’s copayments and coinsurance levels are reduced dramatically at all LIS levels.

Click here to find your level of Extra Help now.

Other Medicare Health Plans

The health plans listed below are additional and more uncommon health plans. For more information please click here

The health plans listed below are additional and more uncommon health plans. For more information please click here

  • Medicare Cost Plans are a type of Medicare health plan available in certain areas of the country. If you have only Medicare Part B you are eligible for this plan
  • Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) combines Medicare, social and long-term care services and prescriptive drug coverage for the frail, elderly or disabled consumers who reside at home.
  • Prescription cost-sharing in the Initial Coverage phase and the Coverage Gap

PACE uses Medicare and Medicaid funds to cover medically-necessary care and services. Consumers may have either Medicare or Medicaid or both to join PACE.

Enrolling a consumer in a MA plan will automatically disenroll then from their PACE plan or vice versa. Agents should use special caution when disenrolling a consumer from a PACE plan into a MA plan sure to all the additional benefits a PACE program provides.