Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today

AARP Bulletin

Medicare Starter Kit

What Does Medicare Cover?

Four Parts: A, B, C and D

En español | Unlike other health insurance, Medicare coverage is divided into four parts: A, B, C and D. This allows you to choose which parts you want and avoid duplicating coverage from other insurance.

Subscribe to the AARP Health Newsletter

Part A helps pay the costs of a stay in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, home health care, hospice care, and medicines administered to inpatients.

Part B helps pay bills for physicians and outpatient services such as rehab therapy, lab tests and medical equipment. It also covers doctors' services in the hospital and most medicines administered in a doctor's office.

Part C is a different way you can choose to receive your Medicare benefits. It consists of a variety of private health plans, known as Medicare Advantage plans (mainly HMOs and PPOs) that cover Part A, Part B and (often) Part D services in one package. (See "Figuring Out Your Choices.")

Part D helps pay the cost of prescription drugs that you use at home, plus insulin supplies and some vaccines. To get this coverage, you must enroll in a private Part D drug plan or in a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Part D drugs. (See"Figuring Out Your Choices.")

Medicare covers most services deemed "medically necessary," but it doesn't cover everything. Except in limited circumstances, it doesn't cover routine vision, hearing and dental care; long-term nursing home care; or medical services outside the United States.

Exams and checkups:  Medicare doesn’t cover routine physical exams. But when you’re new to Medicare, you’re entitled to a one-time “Welcome to Medicare” exam and medical history review within 12 months of enrolling in Part B. Also, Medicare now offers annual wellness checkups.  Both are free of charge if provided by a doctor who accepts Medicare reimbursement in full.

Early detection:  Certain lab tests and screenings used to diagnose diseases early are also free of charge.  These include mammograms, pap smears, bone density measurement, and screenings for cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, HIV and diabetes. Although the tests themselves are free, in most cases you still pay the required copay to see the doctor who prescribes them. 

For more coverage information, see the "Medicare & You" handbook (PDF).

Going to the Doctor

Most doctors accept Medicare patients, but some don't. Be aware that a physician who has opted out of Medicare cannot bill Medicare for treating you, and you will be responsible for the whole cost. It’s also important to find out whether a doctor accepts Medicare “assignment,” which means that he or she has agreed to the Medicare-approved amount as payment in full, or whether the doctor can charge you up to 15 percent above this amount.  (See related article “Seeing a Doctor 'on Assignment.'")

If you need to find a primary care doctor or specialist who accepts Medicare, go to the physician database on Medicare's website or call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.

Next: What does Medicare cost? »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Walgreens 1 discount membership aarp

Members can earn 50 points per $1 spent on select health & wellness products at Walgreens.

member benefit aarp hear usa

Members save 15% on easy listening devices and more at the HearUSA Hearing Shop.

Eye Med 4 Membership Benefit AARP Discount

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at Target Optical.

Membership Benefits Discounts Email Genius

Brain boost? Get AARP email for access to memory exercises & more that help you focus.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points