Main Content

What is Medicare?

A retiring couple researching and getting answers to what is Medicare

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that provides benefits to those 65 and older and to some younger individuals with disabilities. To understand how Medicare works, it helps to explore the different types of Medicare and the coverage they provide.

What are the 4 types of Medicare?

  • Medicare Part A covers hospital expenses (Original Medicare)
  • Medicare Part B is your general medical insurance for outpatient medical needs (Original Medicare)
  • Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) includes coverage benefits Original Medicare does not cover
  • Medicare Part D solely covers prescription drugs

What does Medicare Part A cover?

Any inpatient care falls under Medicare Part A coverage. That includes:

  • Hospital stays (semi-private rooms) up to 60 days
  • Nursing services
  • Intensive care services
  • Drugs, medical supplies, and equipment used on the premises
  • Lab tests and X-rays taken while hospitalized
  • Surgery and recovery costs
  • Rehabilitation and therapy services
  • Part-time home nursing care

What does Medicare Part B cover?

Medicare Part B covers outpatient needs, including:

  • Doctor visits
  • Tests, screenings and X-rays
  • Flu shots and other vaccinations
  • Necessary medical supplies
  • Outpatient mental health care
  • Medically necessary preventive care

What does Medicare Part C cover?

More Medicare coverage can mean more peace of mind. That's why many people choose Part C, called a Medicare Advantage plan, which you can select from private insurers like Anthem. Medicare Part C plans include Part A and Part B (Original Medicare).

Many Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage (Part D) along with other benefits Original Medicare does not cover.

Medicare Advantage plans may include:

  • Routine dental care including cleanings, X-rays and dentures
  • Routine vision care including eye exams, glasses, and contacts
  • Routine hearing care including hearing aids
  • Fitness benefits including exercise classes

What does Medicare Part D cover?

Original Medicare doesn't cover prescription medications. For that, you can either choose a Medicare Advantage plan that combines with Part D to include prescription drug coverage, or a standalone Part D plan that just covers prescription drugs.

When are you eligible for Medicare?

You have a seven-month window to apply for Medicare:

  • Three months before you turn 65
  • The month you turn 65
  • Three months after you turn 65

It's good to know your Medicare enrollment dates. These are times when you can add, switch or drop coverage so you have a plan that fits your needs.

Apply for the first time: Medicare Initial Enrollment Period

Your Initial Enrollment Period is that seven-month window we just mentioned. It is your first chance to apply for Original Medicare. Try to sign up during this time to avoid penalties and delayed coverage.

Make changes to coverage: Medicare Annual Enrollment Period

If you already applied for Original Medicare but find you need to make changes, you can do that during the Annual Enrollment Period.

The Annual Enrollment Period (also known as the Annual Election Period) is from October 15 to December 7 each year, and is your opportunity to add, drop or change your benefits.

Annual Enrollment is also a good time to sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan if you need more coverage. Or if you have one already, you can make changes to a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan. You also have a chance to change your Medicare Advantage plan from January 1 to March 31 during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

How to Apply for Medicare

Visit your local Social Security office to sign up for Medicare, or sign up with Social Security online in about 10 minutes. You may need the following documents:

  • Your Social Security card
  • Your original birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal citizenship status documentation if you were not born in the U.S.
  • A copy of your W-2 form

What is the best Medicare plan?

Choose the best Medicare plan for you by reviewing your coverage needs and budget. Compare plans to find the right fit. 

Find a Medicare plan that fits your needs. Explore your plan options.

Shop Medicare Plans Today

Y0114_21_3000539_I_C CMS Accepted (07/17/2021)

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the trade name of: In Colorado Rocky Mountain Hospital and Medical Service, Inc. HMO products underwritten by HMO Colorado, Inc. In Connecticut: Anthem Health Plans, Inc. In Georgia: Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthcare Plan of Georgia, Inc.  In Indiana: Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. In Kentucky: Anthem Health Plans of Kentucky, Inc. In Maine: Anthem Health Plans of Maine, Inc. In Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area): RightCHOICE® Managed Care, Inc. (RIT), Healthy Alliance® Life Insurance Company (HALIC), and HMO Missouri, Inc. RIT and certain affiliates administer non-HMO benefits underwritten by HALIC and HMO benefits underwritten by HMO Missouri, Inc. RIT and certain affiliates only provide administrative services for self-funded plans and do not underwrite benefits. In Nevada: Rocky Mountain Hospital and Medical Service, Inc. HMO products underwritten by HMO Colorado, Inc. dba HMO Nevada. In New Hampshire: Anthem Health Plans of New Hampshire, Inc. HMO plans are administered by Anthem Health Plans of New Hampshire, Inc. and underwritten by Matthew Thornton Health Plan, Inc. In Ohio: Community Insurance Company. In Virginia: Anthem Health Plans of Virginia, Inc. trades as Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Virginia, and its service area is all of Virginia except for the City of Fairfax, the Town of Vienna, and the area east of State Route 123. In Wisconsin: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin (BCBSWI), which underwrites or administers the PPO and indemnity policies and underwrites the out of network benefits in POS policies offered by Compcare or WCIC; Compcare Health Services Insurance Corporation (Compcare) underwrites or administers the HMO policies and Wisconsin Collaborative Insurance Company (WCIC) underwrites or administers Well Priority HMO or POS policies. Independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Anthem is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield names and symbols are registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Use of the Anthem websites constitutes your agreement with our Terms of Use.