Medicare is a national health insurance program that provides health insurance to millions of seniors and some younger people with disabilities across the country. Medicare provides health coverage for more than 49 million people in the United States, and that number is expected to grow to 64 million by 2020.
Medicare offers four different types of coverage: Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), Part C (Medicare Advantage), and Part D (prescription drug coverage). After you turn 65, you should have some combination of these four parts to give you the health insurance coverage you need to stay healthy and independent. Most people will enroll in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), but California also offers 316 Medicare Advantage plans across the state. Use Medicare’s Plan Finder to find a plan in your area.
Most people will automatically be enrolled in Part A by aging into the system at age 65. You may also automatically be enrolled in Part B at this time if you are already receiving Social Security benefits. Everyone else will need to manually enroll in Part B coverage through Social Security during one of Medicare’s enrollment periods. If you have a long-term disability, you may qualify for Medicare, even if you are younger than 65. Check with your local Social Security office to see if you qualify for Medicare coverage.
Medicare Part C (also known as Medicare Advantage) is sold through private insurance companies and provides Part A and Part B coverage. Some plans offer additional benefits like vision, dental, and hearing care, and prescription drug coverage. In 2017, one in three Medicare beneficiaries had a Medicare Advantage plan. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 2,348,224 people in California enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans in 2017. Medicare Advantage plans vary based on where you live, so your plan in California might be different from your friend’s in Florida. Prices also vary based on your county. Research Medicare Advantage plans with Medicare’s Plan Finder.
If you have a chronic illness, you might consider purchasing a Medigap policy. Medigap fills in the “gaps” in your Medicare coverage. Some policies cover things like copays, premiums, and deductibles. If you anticipate frequent doctor visits or just need help covering out-of-pocket Medicare costs, Medigap may be right for you. Like Medicare Advantage, Medigap policies are sold by private insurance companies approved by Medicare. Medigap policies are standard across the country (with the exception of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin), though premiums vary based on where you live.
Local resources for Medicare in California
For more help or a free Medicare consultation, contact your HICAP, or Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program. HICAP offers free and unbiased counseling to help guide you through the Medicare system. HICAP counseling is available for Medicare beneficiaries, caregivers, and family members. Visit your local HICAP website.
If you have low income and assets, California has five Medicare Savings Programs available to qualified beneficiaries. These programs offer discounts for some out-of-pocket Medicare expenses, like the Part A and Part B premium, deductible, coinsurance, and copayments. See if you qualify for any of the Medicare Savings Programs in California.
To contact Medicare directly, call 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY users call 1-877-486-2048) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.