Understanding Medicare: Your guide to the basics
When you’re just getting started with Medicare, it can feel like there’s so much to keep track of. But at the same time, you want to gather as much information as possible so you can feel confident in picking the right plan for you.
That’s where we come in: We’ve helped thousands of people learn the basics of Medicare to make choosing a plan as simple as possible. We’re here to help you, too.
On this page, you can find information about:
Get to know Medicare
Medicare is a federal health insurance program that helps cover health care costs for those who qualify. The coverage you can receive directly from the U.S. government is called Original Medicare – also known as
Medicare Part A
Medicare Part A covers certain hospital-related expenses you may be charged during a traditional hospital stay, through home health care or in a skilled nursing facility. These can include costs like room fees, meals and more. Part A also covers necessary medical supplies and drugs that are provided in these circumstances.
Medicare Part A does not cover doctor fees, or hospital fees considered medically unnecessary, such as private duty nursing, the television or telephone in your room (if separate charges apply), or personal care items such as razors and slippers.
Most people don’t pay a monthly premium for Part A.
Medicare Part B
Medicare Part B covers medical expenses like routine doctor visits, outpatient services and some diagnostic screenings. Part B may cover some medication administered during your visit and a limited number of outpatient prescription drugs under certain conditions.
Most people pay a monthly premium for Part B. And when you need care, you’re also responsible for
Original Medicare covers the basics but not much more. There are many important services that Original Medicare doesn’t include, like prescription drug coverage, routine hearing exams and eye care.
When you need more coverage than Original Medicare, consider enrolling in a plan that includes additional coverage from a private insurer like HealthPartners.
Here are some things to keep in mind about private Medicare plans:
- Your choice of plans will depend on where you live. Different plans are offered in different counties.
- Each plan has its own premium, deductible, copay and out-of-pocket maximum amounts. It’s a good idea to compare plans to make sure you choose one that meets your needs.
- Once you enroll in a private Medicare plan, you don’t need to renew it each year, but you’ll have opportunities to switch plans if your needs change.
Medicare Advantage plans
Medicare Cost plans
Medicare Supplement plans
Medicare Part D plans
To be eligible for Medicare, you must be a United States citizen or lawfully present in the United States. You must also:
- Be age 65 or over; OR
- Be under age 65 with certain disabilities; OR
- Have end-stage renal disease (eligible for Medicare Advantage plans only)
Starting when you turn 65, you’ll have several opportunities to enroll in Medicare. But if you don’t enroll during your first enrollment window (around your 65th birthday), you may have to pay a late-enrollment penalty for Part B or Part D. It’s a good idea to learn about all enrollment windows so you can take action when the time is best for you.
How to enroll in Medicare
Many people are automatically enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) once they're eligible. But not everyone is.
You'll be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare if:
- You're receiving Social Security benefits or Railroad Retirement Board benefits when you turn 65; OR
- You're eligible for Medicare because of a disability or medical condition
You must enroll yourself in Original Medicare if you're not receiving Social Security benefits when you become eligible for Medicare. There are three ways you can enroll yourself in Original Medicare:
Enroll onlinethrough the Social Security Administration
- Call the Social Security Administration at
800-772-1213(TTY 800-325-0778), 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday - Friday
- Enroll in person at your
local Social Security office
For private Medicare plans, you can enroll at the same time as your automatic enrollment or self-enrollment in Original Medicare. If you first enrolled in Original Medicare but later want to enroll in a private Medicare plan, you’ll have an opportunity to do so every year during the
We offer affordable options for every lifestyle and budget. You’ll get the benefits you really need – plus added bonuses for even more value.
Medical coverage with extra perks and benefits – plus drug coverage for most plans
Available in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin
Medical-only coverage with extra perks and benefits
Available in parts of Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota
Coverage that helps fill the gaps in Original Medicare
Available statewide in Minnesota
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Last updated October 2023
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