Medicare is the US Federal Government Health Insurance Program for:

People 65 years of age and older.
Some people with disabilities under age 65.
People with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant).

Know What You Want from a Medicare Plan

Whether Original Medicare alone, Original Medicare plus a Medicare Supplement plan, or a Medicare Advantage plan is right for you will depend on your unique needs and circumstances. Think about what is most important to you when you are healthy and when you are sick. Here are some topics to consider:

Receiving care from the doctor and hospital of your choice

Under original Medicare, you can use whichever specialists and hospitals you choose, whenever you need, and without a referral from another doctor, so long as they accept Medicare Assignment. Medicare private plan options could limit your ability to get care from the doctor or hospital of your choice, or there may be extra charges for out-of-network care. If provider choice is a priority, you should consider original Medicare with added protection from a Medicare Supplement insurance policy, sometimes known as Medigap, or from an employer-sponsored or union retiree health plan, if you are eligible.

Getting coverage of additional benefits to reduce your medical costs

If you are on a tight budget and are willing to limit your choice of doctors and hospitals, you may be able to reduce your health care expenses and get coverage of additional benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan. It is important to review the scope and limits of additional benefits when choosing among available plans. It is also important to look at how much your out-of-pocket costs will be if you get sick. For example, some Medicare private plans charge a copay for each day of an inpatient hospital stay, while original Medicare charges only a deductible but no daily copays for the first 60 days of a hospital stay.

Maintaining health care coverage while away from home

Under original Medicare, you will be covered for care anywhere in the United States. While private plans must cover emergency care for members outside the plan area, most do not cover other health care services while away from home. For example, Medicare HMOs have more restrictive networks of doctors and hospitals that limit coverage away from home.

Keeping supplemental coverage from a former employer or union

If you are considering joining a Medicare private plan (either a Medicare Advantage plan or a stand-alone prescription drug plan), you should talk to your employer or former employer to be sure you won’t lose valuable retiree health benefits if you sign up for a private plan. Many employers offer retiree health coverage as a supplement to traditional Medicare; some also offer coverage through Medicare HMOs and other private plan options.

Coordinating with Medicaid benefits

If your income and assets are quite modest, you may qualify for Medicaid benefits or other special programs that will help pay some of your health care costs. For those who qualify, Medicaid often pays for valuable benefits, such as nursing home care, and also pays Medicare’s premiums. If you are already covered by Medicare and Medicaid, you should find out what you must pay to join a Medicare private plan and whether Medicaid will cover the plan’s copayments.