Know your alphabet

Many people ask, "How does Medicare work?"

Medicare provides basic health care coverage, but does not cover all expenses for medical services, prescription drugs or long-term care. To help with these costs, you have options, including Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement plans.

In general, there are four "parts" to Medicare:

  • Part A is provided by the federal government and covers care if you are in the hospital, a skilled nursing facility or receiving home health care. Once you are enrolled in Medicare, you may receive these benefits without having to pay a premium because you have already paid for them through Social Security payroll contributions.
  • Part B is provided by the federal government and covers visits to your doctor's office and other outpatient services and supplies. Part B requires a monthly premium and you can choose not to have this coverage.
  • Part C is called Medicare Advantage and you have to get it from a private insurance company that has been approved by Medicare. Generally, Part C covers everything in Parts A and B and might include additional benefits such as dental, vision and hearing services. Most Medicare Advantage plans offer Part D prescription drug coverage.
  • Part D covers prescription drugs and you get it from a private insurance company that has been approved by Medicare. Part D adds prescription drug coverage to original Medicare.

When you enroll in Medicare, you can choose the coverage that best fits your income and health care needs. At least once a year, from October 15 to December 7, you have the opportunity to change your coverage during the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period.