Main Content

What is Medicare?

When exploring Medicare for the first time it's normal to have a lot of questions. That's why we've organized all the Medicare information you need to navigate the process more easily.

How does Medicare work?

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that provides benefits to those older than 65 and to some younger individuals with disabilities. If you want to understand how Medicare works you can learn more about the different parts of Medicare – that begins with a better understanding of Original Medicare.

What is Original Medicare?

Medicare is made up of two main parts: Part A and Part B. Part A covers hospital expenses. Any inpatient care falls under Medicare Part A coverage. That includes:

  • Hospital stays (semi-private rooms) up to 60 days
  • Hospital meals
  • 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

Medicare Part B is your general medical insurance for outpatient medical 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 is Medicare Part C?

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

Many plans include prescription drug coverage as well as 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 contacts and glasses
  • Routine hearing care including hearing aids
  • Fitness benefits including exercise classes

What is Medicare Part D?

Original Medicare doesn't cover prescription medications. For that, you can either get a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage, or a standalone Part D plan, which solely 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

Medicare Enrollment – that seven-month window we just mentioned – 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.

Also known as the Annual Election Period, from October 15 to December 7 each year, the Annual Enrollment Period 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 use this to make changes to a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan.

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

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

Shop Medicare Plans Today


Y0114_20_113219_U  CMS Accepted 9/10/19
502868MUMENMUB

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.