What is Medicare? How do I get started?

September 20, 2011

Medicare is the primary health insurance for retirees and their spouses. It is available for those over age 65, those under 65 with certain disabilities, and those of any age with permanent kidney failure. It consists of Parts A, B, C and D.

Part A helps cover inpatient care in hospitals and a skilled nursing facility, hospice and home health care.

Part B helps cover doctors’ services, hospital outpatient care and home health care, as well as some preventive services to help maintain your health and to keep certain illnesses from getting worse.

Part C is a Medicare advantage plan similar to an HMO or PPO — health plans run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. Medicare advantage plans generally include Parts A, B and D.

Part D is a prescription drug program provided by a Medicare-approved private insurance company to help cover the cost of prescription drugs.

You should enroll in Medicare Parts A, B and D when you are first eligible. If you delay enrollment, you will be subject to additional costs for the coverage.

Railroad employees should call the Railroad Retirement Board’s toll-free information line at (877) 772-5772 for enrollment and other information, or Palmetto GBA at (800) 833-4455.

Non-railroad employees should call Medicare at (800) 633-4227, or visit http://www.medicare.gov.

Medicare can send you a handbook, “Medicare & You,” explaining all aspects of Medicare, or the handbook may be ordered or downloaded at the Medicare website.